‘If You Tried To Enact A Law Like DADT In Israel, You’d Be Laughed Out Of The Knesset’

Yoav Sivan, an Israeli journalist, offers a refreshing perspective of how the IDF came to allow gays and lesbians to serve openly in its forces. In its early days, Israel had “no specific prohibition against serving,” but soldiers discovered to be gay were usually discharged.” Beginning in 1983, “they were allowed to serve but were required to undergo psychiatric evaluations and denied security clearances.” All of that changed in 1993:

When the media released a photograph of a soldier—wearing his uniform—literally coming out of a closet constructed for Israel’s first gay pride event in 1993, the soldier was tried in a military court and forced to leave his unit. In February of that year, things began to change. The Knesset held its first hearing on gays in the military, where Uzi Even, the chairman of Tel Aviv University’s chemistry department, testified that he had been fired from his top secret position in Israel’s nuclear facilities because he was openly living with a man. The fact that he was dismissed after 15 years of service created a national outcry and inspired Prime Minister Yizhak Rabin to rethink the policy. Within three months, then-IDF chief of staff Ehud Barak signed the command banning military discrimination based on sexual orientation into law. […]

The speed at which the policy has changed indicates that constantly embattled Israelis feel as if they have bigger fish to fry than squabbling over gays in the military. When then-editor of The Forward Seth Lipsky asked Ariel Sharon, a former general and minister of defense, for his take on gays in the army in the early 1990s, the question brought a “quizzical look to his face,” Lipsky wrote. Sharon had to ask an aide, “What is our policy on gays?” The aide didn’t know either.

Significantly, a review conducted in 2000, showed no indication that lifting the gay ban compromised military effectiveness. The study found that “acknowledging the presence of gay peers has no bearing on unit social cohesion, irrespective of the kind of military policy in place.”

Sivan notes that while none of the 25 countries that allow open service have “experienced the dreaded loss of morale or unit cohesion conjured by anti-gay politicians in America,” “emotionally-driven issues such as the common shower (that universal test of unit cohesion) preoccupy Americans.” Israelis have a different perspective, however. “Avner Even-Zohar, a retired IDF captain who lectures extensively on LGBT issues, says that “in officers’ training in the Israeli army they told us that real soldiers hardly shower at all.” (H/T: Ed O’Keefe)