Haaretz - September 13, 2002
Ofer Nur

Defense Mechanism

In recent years the IDF has shown openness towards gay and lesbian soldiers, but Yossi & Jagger - a homosexual love story - seemed to be too much for the army's power-that-be.

At first glance, the TV film Yossi & Jagger portrays army life using the standard Israel Defense Force backdrop. But the military visuals are modest, especially in comparison to such other films as "Shtei Etzbaot Mi'Tzidon" (Ricochets), which was filled with helicopters, armored vehicles, jeeps and tanks. The army simply refused to endorse the production of this film.

Why did the army decide to not to cooperate with the film production? Yossi & Jagger is a love story between a platoon commander and a company commander in an outpost on the Lebanon border. Jagger, the platoon commander (Yehuda Levi) is the open and extroverted one, and ready for his coming out. Yossi, the company commander (Ohad Knoller) is introverted and inhibited. The film deals explicitly with romantic love between these two commanders.

In recent years, the IDF has shown openness toward soldiers belonging to the homo-lesbian community. Whereas many armies all over the world react with evasion or harassment or, in the worst case, with even out-and-out violent persecution when they discover a male or female soldiers in same-sex relationships, the IDF does not exhibit fear or avoidance when it comes to unconventional sexual preferences.

But even though the Israeli army demonstrated indifference towards sexual inclinations and does not consider them a threat to its ability to fulfill its missions, it seems that in the case of Yossi & Jagger - which was produced by Amir Harel and Gal Uchovsky, directed by Eytan Fox (script by Avner Bernheimer) - the IDF has shown genuine opposition. It seems that the linkage between the romantic love of two men, which is confined to a small number of soldiers, and such central figures as a platoon commander and a company commander, has crossed some red line.

In order to draw this line, one has to be aware of the unique nature of the relationship between combat soldiers and their direct superiors, as it is played out in the army. The platoon commander and the company commander are the pillars of a modern army. In this country, this is a basis fact of army life. More than the first sergeant major, the cook, the chief of staff, or even technology, the platoon commander and the company commander are the heart and soul of the army.

The two young men, who fulfill these roles, have a unique and extremely difficult mission: to have a group of young men facing their death, even if it means performing a heroic act. The secret of this effective system lies in the act of "seduction" by the platoon commander, and in the act of the devotion that is chosen by the rank-and-file soldiers. The platoon commander who leads the seduction seems to be saying: I will make men and heroes out of you, in the context of a huge "orgy" of blood, flesh and fire. And the soldiers who are seduced, or who perhaps are suckers, reply: We will follow you in fire and water; we will sacrifice our bodies and our lives.

This relationship is activated by a powerful and unique mechanism, a sort of glue that bonds the soldiers to each other and to their commanders. This system has "rivals"' which are far inferior to it and are used in other armies: a monetary reward, in the case of mercenaries, or coercion, in armies all over the Third World. But the system that the IDF teaches in officer-training school, and which is expressed in the slogan "Aharai" ("Follow me"), although entirely voluntary and ostensibly extremely fragile, is actually the strongest of all.

It is ironic that the IDF philosophy of leadership does not call this mechanism by its offensive name "male-male eros". Although this erotic tension is not reduced to full sexual relations, any discussion of it arouses strong opposition, then and now.