The boundaries of social transformation through litigation: Women's and LGBT rights in Israel, 1970-2010

Yoav Dotan*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review

10 Scopus citations


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 in Israel by two groups - women's rights activists and lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) rights activists - between 1970 and 2010. The struggles of women and LGBT people for equality have many shared characteristics, since both challenge the traditional conservative patriarchal social model. In Israeli society, moreover, both LGBT rights activists and women's equality activists faced the same political rivals: 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, LGBT rights groups adopted a variety of strategies that emphasised grassroots political tactics. The article examines the success of each group in achieving its political objectives by using cross-country comparative indexes of LGBT and women's rights. I argue that the comparison between the two groups points to the relative weaknesses of legal and litigation-centred strategies as vehicles for social transformation.

Original languageAmerican English
Pages (from-to)3-38
Number of pages36
JournalIsrael Law Review
Issue number1
StatePublished - 29 Jan 2015

Bibliographical note

Publisher Copyright:
Copyright © Cambridge University Press and The Faculty of Law, The Hebrew University of Jerusalem 2015.


  • LGBT rights
  • legal mobilisation
  • litigation
  • women's rights


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