Nepal, the IDF and Gay Public Relations

The victory of people who are different does not lie in the attempt to be like the majority, but in the emphasis on queerness.

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An Israeli father returning home with his baby from Nepal, April 27, 2015.
An Israeli father returning home with his baby from Nepal, April 27, 2015.Credit: Ofer Vaknin

There is no question that the picture of the week in Israel is the one in which a newborn baby, wrapped in a woolen blanket and in a piece of blue-and-white cloth, snuggles in the strong arms of an Israel Defense Forces soldier in a pressed uniform. No less than the newborns who were rescued from earthquake-stricken Nepal, their fathers, same-sex couples who had gone to Southeast Asia to undergo a surrogacy process, are being embraced by the establishment.

Moving photographs of pairs of smiling Israeli men holding their infants as they descend from the Israel Air Force planes, are opening the news broadcasts and starring on the home pages of the news websites. Borne on waves of Independence Day euphoria, the proud parents are suddenly becoming national heroes, with continued Jewish existence dependent on disseminating their precious sperm. The warm national embrace is providing the gay community with a significant moment and a good opportunity to enter the heart of the Israeli consensus, in which birth, the army and nationalism are sacred values that can shatter stigmas and expand hearts.

A baby, in the arms of an Israeli soldier, on board a rescue flight in Nepal.Credit: IDF Spokesperson's Office

The photos of the fathers, the infants and the soldiers descending from the ramp of the plane are somewhat reminiscent of the heartwarming pictures from 30 years ago, which also captured similar moments of national excitement: when the hijacked passengers from Entebbe, who were rescued in Operation Jonathan, landed safely in Israel — pictures that showed an army that rescues rather than kills; that liberates rather than occupies.

The gay community can now only hope that the dramatic events will soon be adapted into a Hollywood melodrama called “The Raid on Bhaktapur” or “The Victory Over Kathmandu,” starring Neil Patrick Harris as the concerned parent, Luke Evans as the brave pilot and Tom Cruise as an IDF spokesman.

But the gay community also has a lot to lose if it allows itself to wax nostalgic about the establishment’s bear hug.

The Israeli fondness for heroic images causes a tendency to ignore the fact that there is no real connection between those images and the essence of the action taken or the need for it. After all, it could have been avoided ahead of time had Israel really been interested in the welfare of same-sex couples. In such a case, Israeli law would not restrict the use of a surrogate mother to a married man and woman only. Same-sex couples could also undergo the process here, without spending huge sums of money and without any need to be rescued in a daring operation.

In addition, the national embrace recently enjoyed by the the gay couples is liable to erase for the public the variation among the gay community — the fact that it is composed of a collection of individuals with a wide range of identities and sexual preferences. Israel is are now offering a warm welcome to a very specific part of the community — the part that provides smiling copies of heterosexual and mainstream family structures. But the victory of people who are different does not lie in the attempt to be like the majority in order to become close to it, but in the emphasis on queerness and its variety within the society (which, of course, can also include a monogamous family.) Is everyone who accepts gay surrogacy also willing to accept the gay bars, the wild parties, the apps for one-night stands, the drag queens, the butch lesbians and the transgenders?

After the cynical and hypocritical exploitation in recent years of Israel’s ostensibly liberal attitude towards the gay community — in order to cover over a dark reality of occupation and oppression with pink cement — they are now drafting the gays directly into the IDF, as brave fighters in the Public Relations Corps.

Until Israel is a truly egalitarian and open country, we would probably do better to continue to warm ourselves from the steam of the dimly lit saunas, rather than the tribal campfire. In any case it really dries out your skin.

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