New group defends integrated Israel military

By : Michael K. Lavers of the Washington Blade, courtesy of the National Gay Media Association
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A new group seeks to counter growing opposition to LGBTQ and female soldiers in the Israel Defense Forces.

Blue and White Pride describes itself as “a movement of Israelis, men and women, who serve in Israel’s security forces, both as conscripts and in the reserves, and want to maintain the IDF as a meeting point for Israeli society.” The group also seeks to strengthen “the values of the IDF and those serving” against the backdrop of “anti-liberal forces trying to stop” the integration of women, LGBTQ Israelis and other minorities into the military.

Blue and White Pride in February launched a media and public education campaign that highlights the importance of LGBTQ people and women in the Israeli armed forces.

The group has raised $20,773.20 (NIS 76,262) so far. Omer Nahmany, a gay IDF reservist who founded Blue and White Pride, told the Washington Blade late last month during a telephone interview from Tel Aviv that his group hopes to raise additional funds.

“We see the army as a microcosm of what Israeli society is going to look like,” he said.

Nahmany told the Blade he has previously mentored gay IDF soldiers. He said communal showers and homophobic remarks from other servicemembers are among the issues with which they struggle.

“For some soldiers it can be very offensive,” said Nahmany. “We are here to help them. It’s like a big brother program.”

Nahmany told the Blade on Wednesday the organization “seeks to enhance and develop the ‘commune service’” of LGBTQ and women who are in IDF combat positions. He noted Blue and White Pride also seeks to highlight religious and extreme right organizations that “try to effect the army and push women out of combat positions and LGBTQ (people) out of the army.”

‘There is no discrimination going into the army’

Military service in Israel is compulsory for Jews.

Israeli Arabs who are Muslim can voluntarily join the IDF. Ultra-Orthodox Jews can receive deferments.

Gay men, lesbian women and bisexuals have been able to openly serve in the IDF since 1993.

Transgender Israelis have been able to serve openly in the military since 2014. Servicemembers can also undergo sex-reassignment surgery while in the IDF.

“Everybody goes,” Nahmany told the Blade. “There is no discrimination going into the army.”

Nahmany said he was out throughout the five years he was in the IDF. He told the Blade that religious soldiers who met him changed their attitudes towards LGBTQ people, noting their rabbis told them they are all “perverts.”

“When they met me, they understood me,” said Nahmany. “They depend on me. We go to battle together.”

Rabbi with IDF ties describes gays as ‘deviants’

Ultra-Orthodox rabbis in recent years have become vocal opponents of an integrated IDF.

The Times of Israel in July 2016 reported Yigal Levinstein, a rabbi with ties to the IDF who runs a religious academy in an Israeli settlement on the West Bank, described gay men as “deviants.”

Israeli Education Minister Naftali Bennett, chair of the right-wing Bayit Yehudi party who supports the expansion of settlements on the West Bank, is among those who criticized Levinstein. Levinstein last month described female IDF soldiers as “crazy.”

“The rabbis say that women in the army weaken it,” Nahmany told the Blade on Wednesday. “But what they actually want is to make the army religious and chauvinistic like they are.”

Nahmany told the Blade Blue and White Pride is also “getting fire from” left-wing and “radical LGBTQ feminist groups” that argue an integrated army counters “the values of the feminist and LGBTQ struggle for equality.” He said these organizations also oppose the IDF policies in the West Bank.

Nahmany noted to the Blade that he is “against the occupation.”

“I think we have to get out of Judea and Samaria,” he said, referring to how the Israeli government refers to the West Bank.

Nahmany proceeded to accuse these groups of “not looking straight into the eyes of the current situation.”

“The reality is I can’t stop the occupation right now,” he told the Blade. “My job is to keep the army liberal.”

“It’s hard enough being gay and being in the army and none of these organizations are helping gays in the army,” added Nahmany. “You can’t criticize me for helping LGBTQ people in the army.”

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