On Monday, the official Facebook page of the Israel Defense Forces (IDF) uploaded a picture of two male soldiers in uniform holding hands on a Tel Aviv street. By 9:30 am on Tuesday, the picture had already gained over 6359 likes, 4458 shares, and no small amount of feedback – 990 comments – both supportive and scathing.
The photo, captioned “It’s Pride Month. Did you know that the IDF treats all of its soldiers equally? Let’s see how many shares you can get for this photo” celebrates Israel’s law which prohibits discrimination against homosexual soldiers.
Israel was one of the first countries to allow openly gay service members, passing the IDF anti-discrimination law in 1993. The army also officially recognizes same-sex couples, including homosexual widows and widowers, according to a 1994 Supreme Court ruling allowing spousal benefits to same-sex couples.
For years, the Foreign Ministry has used the IDF’s gay friendly policy as a way to showcase Israel’s tolerance. Now the IDF has jumped on the bandwagon, and is showcasing its acceptance of homosexual service members to portray itself as an enlightened military.
Despite the IDF’s open policy, a 2011 survey by the Israel Gay Youth organization found that about 40 percent of gay and lesbian soldiers in the IDF experienced harassment based on their sexual identity during their term of service.
Nonetheless, Israel presents itself as a gay friendly society, promotes Tel Aviv as the “Gay Capital of the Middle East,” and Israeli diplomats throughout the world laud the country’s tolerance as a way to break through other countries’ preconceptions about Israeli society.
As a source in the Foreign Ministry told Yedioth Aharonoth about the IDF photo: “I don’t recall other armies in the world doing such a thing.”