IDF officers and combat soldiers set up a tent encampment in front of the prime minister’s official residence on Sunday to protest what they claim is discriminatory treatment of LGBT family members by the State of Israel and particularly by the IDF.
The protestors stressed that under the current laws, same-sex partners and families of fallen soldiers and victims of terror attacks are not automatically legally recognized as bereaved. The protestors are therefore seeking to officially instate their right to equality under the Fallen Soldier's Families Pensions and Rehabilitation Law.
“People who sacrifice their lives deserve equal rights, regardless of their sexual orientation or the makeup of their family,” said Rachel Elgabsi, the widow of Police Lt. Fabiola Bohadana who had died in the Carmel Fire in 2010. According to Elgabsi, “I was told ‘You cannot be called a widow.’”
Following Bohadana’s death, Elgabsi was forced to go through a three-and-a-half-year legal process to officially be recognized as her widow and secure the rights of their daughter Julie. “It should have already been set in Israel’s legislation and automatically recognized by the state,” she said.
Elgabsi’s story was one of the cases that propelled a group of gay reserve soldiers to set up the tent encampment in front of the prime minister’s residence, in memory of the fallen and in protest of Israel’s non-inclusive law that does not automatically recognize the LGBT family members who survived them as bereaved.
This is not the first attempt that has been made to change the above-mentioned law. In February, MK Revital Swid (Likud) proposed a bill that called to officially include LGBT families under it, but the bill was rejected by the Knesset. MK Amir Ohana (Likud), himself a gay man, is among the current proposal’s supporters.
The Ministry of Defense was perplexed over the protest, claiming that LGBT members already receive equal rights under the current law. According to the ministry’s official response, “For many years now, the Ministry of Defense has applied the Fallen Soldier's Families Pensions and Rehabilitation Law to same-sex couples and has already recognized LGBT partners of fallen soldiers. The ministry carefully examines each individual case in accordance to the law and the relevant facts, so it is unclear to us what the protestors are objecting to.”
Minister of Defense Moshe Ya’alon responded on Monday to the criticism during a meeting convened to discuss the matter. Among those in attendance were The Defense Ministry’s Director General Dan Harel and the ministry’s Head of Memorialization and Families Department Aryeh Mualem.
“We treat all bereaved families equally, be they same-sex or heterosexual,” said Ya’alon. “It is unthinkable that we would do otherwise.”
Ya’alon continued by saying, “Our moral debt toward bereaved families—to the widowers, widows and orphans—is enormous, and they will be recognized as such whether they are part of a same-sex or heterosexual family.”
Deputy Company Commander Omer Nachmani, who is one of the reserve soldiers protesting, disagreed with Ya’alon’s statement, explaining why the current legislation is insufficient. “If a same-sex couple were to, God forbid, lose their son or daughter in battle, only one of them would be recognized as a bereaved parent. We demand that the Ministry of Defense issue an official and unequivocal order that in cases of same-sex families, all family members be recognized as bereaved and receive all the rights due to a heterosexual family. We go off to war and face the possibility of dying for our country. It is inconceivable that such blatant discrimination against IDF soldiers and gay bereaved families exist.”