This opinion piece was first published as “The Fallout From Two Soldiers Holding Hands” on the Forward Thinking blog at the Forward.
No one should have been surprised that a photo of two male Israeli soldiers holding hands would have gone viral and provoked a huge response after the IDF posted it on Monday on its Facebook page in honor of Pride Month. As of Tuesday evening, it had garnered 9,500 likes, 7,330 shares, and 1,360 comments. Most of the reactions were pretty much expected, but one was not.
Of course, it didn’t take long for the religious authorities to chime in with their disapproval. While the IDF and the Foreign Ministry were proud that they were declaring to the world that Israel treats all its soldiers equally,” the IDF rabbinate was far less so. Behind closed doors, military rabbis were saying that they thought the posting of the photo was inappropriate, because it was insensitive to the feelings of religious soldiers. Such a public display is “confusing for religious soldiers,” they said. “People need to remember that there are religious and Haredi soldiers in the army, as well.” It’s highly unlikely, though, that anyone has forgotten this fact, given the disproportionate influence the religious authorities have had over military life lately.
Then there was the anti-Israel accusations that this was just “pinkwashing in action”—the notion that Israel promotes its image as a country open to and tolerant of homosexuality in order to draw attention away from its policies toward the Palestinians.
My friend Aviad Stier, who lives in Herzliya, told me that he, as a gay man, wasn’t too thrilled with the photo for other reasons. “I wasn’t wild about the picture to begin with, seeing that the soldiers are shown from behind, like the [closeted] 1980’s all over again,” he wrote to me on Facebook. “But I guess it’s nice to know LGBT people are mainstream enough to be flaunted around by the IDF,” he conceded.
It was a no brainer to predict all three of these reactions. But what threw me for a bit of a loop was the prominently placed article on the homepage of The Times of Israel, its headline screaming, “Army’s ‘gay soldiers’ photo was staged, is misleading.” The reporter did some digging and proved that the scene was not spontaneously captured, but rather staged with two men serving in the IDF Spokesperson’s Office (one actually gay, the other straight) posing as boyfriends (or at least two men close enough to be holding hands).
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© 2012 Renee Ghert-Zand. All rights reserved.