A picture of two male Israeli soldiers holding hands, posted by Israel’s military spokesman and circulated widely on the web this week as part of gay pride month, was staged and is misleading, The Times of Israel established Tuesday.
The newly hip, multimedia-savvy IDF Spokesperson’s Office posted Monday on its Facebook page a photo of two ostensibly gay soldiers, one seeming to belong to the Givati Brigade and the other to the Artillery Corps, holding hands and walking on a city street.
In fact, the two soldiers in the photo are not a couple, only one of the two is gay, and both the soldiers serve in the IDF Spokesperson’s Office.
The picture appears to have been taken on Itamar Ben Avi street in Tel Aviv, around the corner from the Spokesperson’s Office headquarters.
Contacted by The Times of Israel, the IDF Spokesperson’s Office did not deny the photo was staged, offering the following statement: “The photo reflects the IDF’s open minded attitude towards soldiers of all sexual orientations. The IDF respects the privacy of the soldiers featured in the photograph, and will not comment on their identities.”
The photo has garnered thousands of “likes” on Facebook and has been hailed by the Foreign Ministry as evidence of the Israeli army’s unique tolerance toward homosexuality.
Male homosexual sex was outlawed in Israel until 1988, and in the 1950s the IDF was the only official state institution to try and jail soldiers for engaging in such behavior, according to the Israeli National LGBT Task Force.
But since then much has changed. The IDF Spokesperson’s Office called the matter of homosexuality a “non-issue,” saying that “just as there is no policy in places for blonds and brunets, so too is there no special policy for gays.”
Homosexuals may serve in any military unit they choose, combat or noncombat, the spokesperson added.
The exact number of gay and transgender soldiers is one of the better-kept secrets in the army, according to Chen Langer of the Israeli National LGBT Task Force. While the army evaluators who conduct pre-induction interviews are trained to identify gay soldiers and to ask them about their sexual orientation, the questions are always “in the realm of affirmative action,” he said.
They file the information, he said, so that if a soldier asks to serve close to home or for privacy in the showers they will have on record that he or she has special needs.
In its officer training the army includes presentations from LGBT rights groups, perhaps outperforming all other large organizations in Israel in its acceptance of homosexuality.
But while homosexuality in the ranks is officially accepted, the army appears to remain sensitive to the sexual orientation of higher-ranking officers, Langer said, and there are few homosexuals in the upper echelons of the armed services.