Gays in Israel's Military

by BRUCE KESLER December 9, 2010
The rump Senate may try to force a vote on repeal of DADT. 
One of the arguments raised for the US Congress repealing Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell is the experience of Israel’s military in allowing those openly gay to serve. Israel’s Defense Force (IDF) is generally considered one of the more able in the world and there is little reporting of major reported problems with the policy. But, prominent studies of the matter are deficient to argue from the Israeli experience.
(It well may be so that DADT should be repealed at some point. Not now. There are too many issues of fact to be determined. There are too many effects that are yet unclear. There are too many management issues to be decided and implemented. There are too many more pressing stresses on the US military today, particularly upon our combat forces who are in majority opposed.)
The DADT report from the Pentagon released November 30 offers little worthwhile information regarding Israel, or other countries’ experience with the impact on combat effectiveness.
The Pentagon study says, “To be sure, there is no perfect comparator to the U.S. military, and the cultures and attitudes toward homosexuality vary greatly among nations of the world. However, in recent times a number of other countries have transitioned to policies that permit open military service by gay men and lesbians. These include the United Kingdom, Canada, Australia, Germany, Italy, and Israel.” But, “Working Group members interacted with senior military and civilian officials from the United Kingdom, Canada, and Australia [not Israel] to study conditions prior to policy change, how they handled the transition, and what impacts, if any, they observed. The Working Group focused on these three countries because they are in many ways culturally similar to the United States, and their militaries are, like the U.S. military, all-volunteer forces and of similar size proportionate to their national populations. These nations also work closely with U.S. forces in international operations.” However, “None of these nations directly assessed the effects of the policy change on unit cohesion or combat effectiveness.”
The Palm Center, advocates for gay rights, issued a report in 2004 on Israel’s IDF reviewing sources, in which it found little indication of gays’ open inclusion undermining combat effectiveness. However, the report realizes that, “A third argument that experts have invoked to show that foreign military experiences are irrelevant for determining whether lifting the gay ban would undermine American military performance is that important organizational and cultural differences distinguish the United States from other countries that allow known homosexuals to serve. More specifically, they argue that the U.S. military is a unique institution that cannot be equated with foreign armed forces….In the case of Israel, this argument is correct.”
As for how well the 1993 lifting of the ban of openly gay service in the IDF has worked out for gays, for example, a survey released in 2006 by an Israeli “homosexual youth organization among homosexual and lesbian soldiers” found “52 percent of gay soldiers experienced some form of sexual harassment during their Israeli military service.” Hardly a ringing endorsement of a smooth transition.
This morning I asked a prominent expert in Israel about Israel’s IDF experience. He replied there is little problem, but: “Of course, there are differences from the US. For example, most Israeli soldiers go home at the end of the day and are not deployed far away from home. It is also a small country and everyone knows everyone else so people tend not to flaunt things, if you understand what I mean. (Regular sexual harassment has been a problem in the armed forces by the way.)”
He added, regarding the reply I gave a commenter to earlier posts of mine (here and here) on the DADT repeal issue, “You gave a very good answer. What I was hinting at was the difficult question of assessing the behavior of gays once in the military. In the US there is a militant movement that might make more and more demands and there will be some blatant displays right in front of people. Then there will be the law suits--the drill instructor was tougher on me because I was gay. ETC That doesn't happen in Israel. Remember that repealing DADT is ONLY the beginning of what could happen.”
Here's the comment and my reply:
Can you help me with this? The most hawkish, Christianist Republicans support Israel militarily. And they're the same people who are against DADT being repealed. Meanwhile, gays can serve openly in the Israeli military. So we're sending however many gazillion dollars to a country whose military (a) seems to be generally considered one of the better functioning in the known universe and (b) has gays/lesbians serving side-by-side with heterosexuals. Do I have that right?
#13 D. Carney on 2010-12-07 22:00 (Reply)
Happy to help, as it may clarify some of the confusion.
First of all, the Israeli military is comprised of draftees. All must serve, except the most religious observants. Most Israelis resent this exclusion, and more very Orthodox are now serving, most in "separate-but-equal" units. The most observant usually avoid the issue of gays in the military, to avoid more attention on their avoidance of serving.
Second, small Israel needs every able-bodied man and woman to serve.
Third, In addition, Israel's deployments -- unlike the US' -- usually do not involve long distances, close quarters, or other comparable conditions, that elevate the potential for sexual tension. Israeli popular culture is somewhat accepting of homosexuality, but most homosexuals in the IDF are discrete. Israel took over ten-years of careful implementation to reach today's more open acceptance of gays in its military.
Fourth, Those arguing for US repeal of DADT are determined to do it instantly or close to that. Sec.Def. Gates argues that Congressional repeal will head off more court interference in military discipline. That's a false argument. Activists in the gay community are sure to press in the courts, anyway, for more and more lax rules of conduct.
Fifth, the US military is not comprised of draftees, but volunteers. Those who volunteer are from the most motivated. Those at the firing line, already under severe stress, in majority reject repealing DADT. Putting them under more stress, and re-education programs, during this time is simply inane and insane.
Sixth, rejecting the views of the combat troops and punishing some for infractions, sure to occur, will not be offset by libertarians and liberals of combat caliber joining and training and undergoing the risks and prices.
Now, all that said, it well may be that at some future, less stressful and better planned time that more gays can, and actually will, serve openly. But, rushing into it is not the way to go.
BTW, I'm glad you didn't mention the western European forces who allow an openly gay military. Their repeated poor performance and internal discipline problems, coupled with a lack of pervasive warrior culture as in the US forces or strong political support for strenuous deployments or operations or even mounting a large or fully armed force, all are of little comfort to the US as it is, and hardly a model. The US has and meets far larger and dangerous responsibilities behind which the Europeans slack.
#13.1 BruceKesler on 2010-12-07 22:46 (Reply)
P.S.: Senator Graham comments on the Democrats' haste to vote:
"The defense authorization bill is a complicated piece of legislation with four or five major contentious points. Traditionally we’ve had 30, 40, 50 votes on the bill,” Graham told reporters on Capitol Hill this morning. “I don’t see how in the world you can give it the time and attention it deserves, whether it be Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell, abortions in military hospitals, Gitmo… I just think it doesn’t seem like a good idea to bring it up with limited time." Contributing Editor Bruce Kesler served in USMC Intelligence in Vietnam and was a researcher at the Foreign Policy Research Institute. He worked as a financial and business operations exec for Fortune 100 and small companies, and for the past two decades as an independent certified health and benefits consultant and broker. His columns have appeared in many major newspapers.  He currently blogs at Maggie’s Farm.

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