In 1998, I entered the office of Colonel Tal Russo, then the Nahal brigade commander, in order to seek his permission to leave the IDF and withdraw my decision to join the Ofek program for distinguished officers. I did not intend to share with him the real reason for my request, instead asking him to be discharged for personal reasons. Tal of course did not intend to give up easily, and questioned my request, until he asked me something that left me stunned – he asked whether I wish to leave the IDF because I’m a homosexual.
At a moment like that, you feel as though the sky is falling down. The greatest secret in the world, which you have been forced to cope with for many years and has caused you to suffer, live a lie, and be so vulnerable has suddenly been revealed. Tal Russo realized back then how difficult it may be for me to continue serving as a homosexual combat officer. He also understood the long way that the whole of society had to go so that a gay combat officer in the Nahal, in the paratroopers, or in the armored corps could serve as a declared homosexual. I will never forget the brigade commander’s amazing acceptance and support.
I left the IDF, the establishment I so much loved and believed in, because I was taught that it cannot be done. I was told that being a homosexual and a combat officer do not go together. Yet that same day I swore to work in order to change this kind of thinking.
Two years later, I established the Proud Youth organization, which runs youth groups nationwide and provides social support to thousands of teenagers a year. One of the important messages being emphasized through the organization is social integration, contribution to the society, and the importance of joining the IDF.
Today, I am filled with pride every time a member of the organization tells me about their military service, and I am touched to hear that more and more regular and career officers serve in the most elite units while being completely out of the closet. As a reserves officer, I no longer need to be ashamed and hide my personal life from my comrades.
Eli Yishai – I turn to you with a personal and public request. Do not destroy what had been built with great effort. Do not add schisms and hatred to this nation.
As a combat officer in the IDF and reserves major who served as a platoon commander in the Nahal brigade in Lebanon, and came out of the closet during his military service, I view your miserable declaration regarding the ability of homosexuals to serve in the army as not only hurtful, but also blatantly ignorant. The IDF today is a hotbed of solidarity; a place where walls come down in the name of a sacred goal.
As one who just returned from reserves service in the Gaza war, I believe that this solidarity is still alive and well, and that your position represents a small minority, the majority of which does not serve in the army anyway. I regret the fact that at this time, with Israeli troops returning from the battlefield, you see fit to convey a message of divisiveness and rejection, rather than reconciliation and acceptance.
Despite this, having been raised in line with Jewish tradition, which sanctifies education and understanding, and as one who believes that “kol Israel chaverim,” I would like to invite you and members of your faction to visit the Tel Aviv municipal gay center, established on the initiative of reserves captain Itay Pinkas. I hope and believe that visiting the center and meeting the fine teenagers who enjoy its services would enable you to better understand the issue you placed at the top of your agenda. And yes, ultra-Orthodox youths are also active in the gay center and the youth organization that operates within it.
I hope that, having declared that you wish to be Israel’s education minister, you would not refuse the opportunity to bring people closer to each other and see from up close the important educational enterprise represented by the gay center and youth group – an enterprise that brings together thousands of teenagers every month.
IDF reserves Major Yaniv Weizman is a member of the Tel Aviv city council and chairman of the Proud Youth organization