Israeli Army Bars Soldiers From Joining ‘Political’ LGBT Demonstration

Soldiers can attend if they are not on duty, not in uniform and do not express themselves publicly on party or political issues

Demonstrators take part in a LGBT community members protest against a discriminatory surrogate bill in Beersheba, Israel July 22, 2018.
REUTERS/ Amir Cohen

The Israel Defense Forces forbade soldiers from attending the demonstrations held by the LGBT community Sunday to protest the surrogacy law passed last week, saying the demonstrations were political. 

“Because the background to the demonstration is ostensibly political, it is forbidden to participate in this demonstration. Please instruct your people,” said the announcement sent to all army commanders. The decision was made during a discussion Sunday convened by the head of the Manpower Directorate, Maj. Gen. Motti Almoz. However, the Military Advocate General’s Office announced it would not take disciplinary action against soldiers who attended the rally, in response to a request by the Association for Civil Rights in Israel.

>> The Unavoidable Obstacle to LGBT Equality, Religious Pluralism and a Liberal Israel: It’s the Occupation, Stupid | Analysis 

In response to the decision, a senior IDF officer said, “It’s a mistake to relate to such a protest as a political protest. Any demonstration can be interpreted as political; environmental protection is also a political issue. The IDF made a mistake when it defined it as such in an order and turned many soldiers and officials into those who will refuse an order. The IDF can’t enforce this. There’s a struggle here for human rights. There’s no problem with soldiers taking part in this if they are not in uniform, carrying posters or speaking as army representatives.”

There is no data on the number of LGBT soldiers serving in the IDF, but estimates are that their proportion is the same as in the general population. The IDF bans soldiers from attending demonstrations of a purely political nature. One can attend a social-justice demonstration, but not in uniform.

Chen Arieli, chairman of the LGBT Task Force, also known as the Aguda, said, “I’m very disappointed by the IDF’s position and I call on Chief of General Staff Eisenkot to make it clear that there is no problem with soldiers attending the LGBT community’s rally.”

Arieli added, “It is the right of all citizens of the state to express solidarity and support for the struggle of the community, certainly soldiers who are part of it. The demonstration is over a civic issue, there’s no issue here of right or left.”

Two years ago, the IDF prohibited soldiers from attending the Tel Aviv Gay Pride Parade but then retracted the ban. Soldiers can attend if they are not on duty, not in uniform and do not express themselves publicly on party or political issues.