IDF Chief Rabbi: Army Magazine Shouldn't Cover Gays

Police widen investigation of ultra-Orthodox soldier who posted threats online against gay community.

Israel Defense Forces Chief Rabbi Brigadier General Avihai Ronski has slammed the army's weekly magazine Bamahane for publishing a series of features on the subject of gay officers.

Ronski wrote the army's personnel department and education corps to express that he did not find homosexuality to be an appropriate topic for a publication that reflects the IDF's way of life.

The rabbi took particular offense to a particular interview with Major Yehoshua Gortler, an openly gay religious officer. In the interview, Gortler described his life as both a religious Jew and a gay man.

Ronski received a reply to his complaint, stating that the magazine reflects the way of life of all IDF soldiers, including the homosexual ones.

The IDF spokesperson's unit also issued a response to Ronski's complaint, stating that "the IDF assigns soldiers to posts based on military needs and the soldiers' personal abilities, not based on their sexual orientation or their gender. Any statement to the contrary represents personal opinion and not official IDF policy."

This was not the first time that the magazine Bamahane was at the center of controversy over coverage of homosexual IDF officers. In 2001, the IDF personnel department shut the magazine down for two weeks after it featured an article about a homosexual officer who came out of the closet.

Ronski's letter comes just over a week after the shocking murders at a support center for the gay and lesbian community in Tel Aviv. Nir Katz, 26 and Liz Trobishi, 17, were killed when a masked gunman entered the support center and opened fire. Twelve people were wounded in the incident. The gunman has not been apprehended.

MK Ophir Pines-Paz called on IDF Chief of Staff Gabi Ashkenazi to summon Ronski for a consultation, saying that "It appears that the chief rabbi has not internalized the message of the murders."

"We haven't heard the chief rabbi condemn the murders, and instead we hear him saying this. His personal opinions, as primitive as they may be, can't manifest themselves in his professional capacity," Pines-Paz exclaimed.

Adir Steiner, a leading activist in Israel's gay community, told Israel Radio that the community has demanded that Ronski be discharged. "This incident is very severe, especially in light of the recent murders," said Steiner. "What kind of message is he sending to gay people joining the army?" he asked.

Steiner, the first homosexual to be recognized by the state as an IDF widower, added that "I asked the IDF chief of staff to let the chief rabbi go. If he wants to spew homophobic remarks ? discharge him and let him say whatever he wants."

Police widen probe of Haredi soldier who threatened gays

The Jerusalem Magistrate's Court on Sunday remanded Shmuel Primarik, who was arrested on suspicion of posting threats on a lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender Internet forum, for three days.

Police say that Primarik, a soldier in the ultra-Orthodox Nahal Haredi unit, confessed to authoring posts saying "more serious attacks are expected against the gays; don't say you didn't know about it." The messages were posted on Saturday night, shortly before a Tel Aviv rally commemorating the victims of the previous week's shooting attack on an LGBT support center. Primarik was arrested in Jerusalem later that night.

Though his personal weapon and ammunition have been confiscated, police stressed Sunday that he is not suspected of posting explicit murder threats. They also said he has cooperated with his investigators.

Nevertheless, police sources said, Primarik's arrest was "very important," and they are now looking into whether he was involved in a long list of other homophobic attacks, including several bombs set off to protest Jerusalem Gay Pride parades in previous years. They are also examining whether he was involved in other attacks that they suspect were perpetrated by right-wing religious extremists, such as that on Prof. Zeev Sternhell, who was slightly injured by a pipe bomb placed at his door almost a year ago. However, no connection to Primarik has as yet been found.

Police sources also said they are examining possible connections between these cases and last week's attack on the LGBT center.

However, they refused to explain why Primarik's arrest for posting online threats sparked such an extensive investigation.

In addition to extending Primarik's remand, Judge Arnon Darel denied his request for a gag order on his identity. "The public interest in publishing his identity is obvious, considering the recent murder in Tel Aviv, as are the needs of the investigation," Darel wrote.

The LGBT center shooting was preceded by many less serious homophobic attacks. Although the traditional trigger for such violence, the Jerusalem Gay Pride parade, passed this year without incident, several assaults have been reported in recent months, with transgenders being targeted most frequently.