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Trump Just Banned Transgender Soldiers, Claiming They Make Us Less Safe. Israel Begs to Differ.

Transgender people have served in the IDF since 2013, and the army covers the costs of reassignment surgery

Yair Rosenberg
July 26, 2017

Today, President Trump announced a ban on transgender soldiers in the country’s military. “After consultation with my Generals and military experts, please be advised that the United States Government will not accept or allow transgender individuals to serve in any capacity in the U.S. Military,” he wrote on Twitter. “Our military must be focused on decisive and overwhelming victory and cannot be burdened with the tremendous medical costs and disruption that transgender in the military would entail.”

There are an estimated 4,000 transgender individuals currently serving in the U.S. military. Essentially, Trump argued that they make America less safe by impeding the effectiveness of its armed forces. But is this actually true? The experience of another elite military suggests otherwise.

Israel—a tiny country surrounded by enemies that has been repeatedly targeted for extermination, leaving it with no margin for error—has drafted transgender soldiers since 2013. Today, the Israel Defense Forces covers the costs of gender reassignment surgery for its recruits. While the IDF allows exemptions from mandatory service for medical, cultural, and religious reasons, it does not consider being transgender a disability or liability.

As the IDF’s top gender adviser told a Slate reporter in 2015, “The goal was that everyone should be in the army, and everyone should be safe and comfortable in the army.” This openness sends a message to the rest of Israeli society, which considers the army one of its most respected institutions. “I think that one of our main goals in the gender affairs office is to spread the word,” explained Lt. Shahar Erez, whose transition was covered by the army. “You know, for kids, who need to join the IDF, they need to know they have a place to go to—that they will get the right kind of treatment.” In 2014, Israel ranked 9th out of 103 countries on the Hague Centre for Strategic Studies’s LGBT Military Index, well above the United States, which came in at #40.

Needless to say, none of this has hampered the prowess of Israel’s formidable fighting force. In fact, a 2016 Rand Corporation study that examined the 18 countries that allow transgender personnel to openly serve—including Israel—found that “evidence from foreign militaries and the U.S. military has indicated no significant impact on unit cohesion or operational readiness as a result of allowing transgender and gay and lesbian personnel to serve openly.”

The IDF’s inclusion of transgender soldiers reflects Israel’s broader outlook towards the community. Israel’s universal health coverage includes a stipend for individuals who are transitioning. In 1998, transgender pop star Dana International represented the country at the Eurovision Song Contest—and won. Israel crowned its first Miss Trans in 2016, Christian Arab-Israeli dancer Ta’alin Abu Hanna, who then represented Israel in the Miss Trans Star International pageant in Spain. She told the New York Times that “she faces no hostility in using women’s bathrooms … and most people use the right pronouns when referring to her.”

Trump likes to assert that he is very pro-Israel. If that is genuinely the case, he might want to learn a thing or two from the Jewish state’s treatment of transgender people, in and out of the military.

Yair Rosenberg is a senior writer at Tablet. Subscribe to his newsletter, listen to his music, and follow him on Twitter and Facebook.