"The State of Israel will ensure complete equality of social and political rights to all its inhabitants irrespective of religion, race or sex." These were the words of David Ben Gurion, who declared Israel's independence in 1948, and they have since become the defining pillars of our statehood.
Israelis were shocked last Saturday to hear the news of a shooting at a gay youth club in Tel Aviv that killed two people and injured 11. The fact that we have succeeded in creating a peaceful coexistence between different minorities, ethnicities, and communities in Israel for decades makes it devastating that such a tragedy could happen in a country with such tolerance for the LGBT community.
Israel is certainly no stranger to war, but the battle against intolerance has been won long ago. When it comes to the LGBT community in Israel, Tel Aviv represents the capital of tolerance and multiculturalism. This vibrant, cosmopolitan, and modern city, which has become a world hotspot destination in the past few years, is a comfortable and accepting environment for the gay community. Tel Aviv represents the epitome of coexistence for all its accepting attitudes.
These are the very same values upon which the State of Israel was founded, and upon which it continues to exist. It is our obligation as Israelis - and as Jews - to recognize the need for a pluralistic society. We pride ourselves in accepting the fact that others have the right to think differently, to live differently.
It seems many people are simply uninformed about the multicultural and tolerant nature of Israeli society. Instead, too many people view Israel through a black and white lens, without ever truly seeing the full picture.
That full picture includes a country with some of the most advanced gay rights legislations in the world. The Israeli Supreme Court has passed a number of groundbreaking legislations that grant equal rights to the LGBT community, including recognition of gay marriages, the right to adopt children, and anti-discrimination laws.
History only proves that individuals who choose to violate our basic rights to democracy will not succeed. Israeli society, whether right or left, secular or religious, will not tolerate an act of a single person who tries to tear the very fabric of its democracy. That is why party leaders from all ends of the political spectrum in Israel united in their condemnation of the Tel Aviv youth center attack. In fact, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu recently visited the center in order to show his solidarity and commitment to the LGBT community.
In a 2007 opinion piece in the New York Times, U.S. General John Shalikashvili, former chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, used Israel as his prime example for proving that sexual orientation in the military does not affect success.
In fact, this tolerant attitude has been ingrained in Israeli society since 1992, when the late Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin devised a law prohibiting sexual orientation discrimination in the workplace. This amendment was seen as a huge milestone in recognizing gays, lesbians and bisexuals as equal members of society. Then in 1993, Rabin passed another law to mandate that sexual orientation not be used as a discriminating factor in the military.
Since then, the policy in Israel has been don't ask, but if you do tell. We don't mind. In Israel, it doesn't matter if you are white, black, gay or straight. Israelis understand that you can be a very good officer, a creative one, a brave one, and be gay at the same time. One fact certainly does not contradict the other. When it comes to being gay or straight, it's just another fact of life.