Israel, like the United States, is a largely secular society with deep religious roots. And Israel, like the U.S., is home to vocal religious conservatives who frown on homosexuality. But Israel, unlike the U.S., has allowed gays and lesbians to serve openly in the military for 17 years. In fact, they are required to do so. If Israel has found a way to allow gays in the military, can it provide lessons to the U.S. as it struggles with whether--and how--to dismantle the "don't ask/ don't tell" policy?
Perhaps. But like everything in Israel, it's a bit more complicated. And the comparison between the U.S. and Israel is inexact.
By most accounts, Israel's integration of gays into the military has succeeded, and the Israel Defense Forces (IDF) has reportedly begun to share its experiences with the U.S. military.
While the Obama administration continues to wrangle in court over a federal judge's ruling that declared "don't ask/ don't tell" unconstitutional, the Pentagon has directed military recruiters to start accepting applications from all qualified potential recruits, regardless of sexual orientation.
If the courts or Congress overturn the "don't ask/don't tell" policy, the U.S. will become the 26th nation to fully integrate gay and straight members of the military, according to the Palm Center, a think tank at the University of California Santa Barbara.
Aaron Belkin, the center's director, said full integration has been successful even in countries engaged in frequent combat, citing Israel, American's closest ally in the Middle East, as an example. "The lesson the U.S. military can learn from the Israeli military is there are no negative consequences" to inclusion, "even when the military is a battle-tested force like the IDF," Belkin said.
Drafting openly gay soldiers into the IDF and other military forces "has been highly successful and has no negative impact on morale, retention, readiness or overall combat effectiveness," according to a Palm Center report, "Gays in Foreign Militaries 2010."
Israel has reportedly offered advice to a commission on repealing the policy. Pentagon spokeswoman Cynthia Smith declined to go into detail, but hinted that at least some talks had already occurred.
Israel's transition to full integration of gays took time and planning. As a nation with mandatory military service for both men and women and a strong religious ethos that dictates almost every facet of everyday life, the Israeli government treaded carefully. …