The Boundaries of Social Transformation Through Litigation: Women's and Gay Rights in Israel, 1970-2010

46 Pages Posted: 30 Jan 2014

See all articles by Yoav Dotan

Yoav Dotan

Hebrew University of Jerusalem - Faculty of Law

Date Written: January 29, 2014


The global expansion of judicial power and the rise of litigation as a vehicle for social transformation are two conspicuous social phenomena that are subject to intensive research by social scientists and lawyers alike. One of the most hotly debated questions in this regard relates to the potential value of law in general, and litigation in particular, as a strategy for social change. This article examines the question by comparing the struggle for equality by two groups - women’s rights activists and gay rights activists - in Israel during the 1990’s. The struggles of women and gay people for equality have many shared characteristics, since both challenge the traditional conservative patriarchal social model. In Israeli society, moreover, both gay rights’ activists and women’s equality activists faced the same political rival: the powerful macho-type socio-political mentality, rooted in the central status of the military in Israeli society and the strong hold of Jewish ultra-orthodox parties in the political system. The strategies that the two groups adopted to overcome these obstacles, however, were markedly different. While women’s groups adopted an elitist strategy of struggle that concentrated on legal measures, gay rights’ groups adopted a variety of strategies that emphasized grassroots political tactics. The article examines the success of each group in achieving its political objectives, and argues that the comparison between them indicates the relative weaknesses of legal and litigation-centered strategies as vehicles for social transformation.

Keywords: Legal Transformation; Comparative Law; Gay Rights; Women Rights; Judicial Review

Suggested Citation

Dotan, Yoav, The Boundaries of Social Transformation Through Litigation: Women's and Gay Rights in Israel, 1970-2010 (January 29, 2014). Available at SSRN: or

Yoav Dotan (Contact Author)

Hebrew University of Jerusalem - Faculty of Law ( email )

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