Jewish Groups Split over Clinton’s Effort to End Military Ban on Gays

Like much of the nation, the organized American Jewish community is divided over President Clinton’s efforts to end the ban on homosexuals in the military.

While gay and lesbian Jewish groups, and the Reform movement support Clinton’s intention of overturning the ban, the Jewish War Veterans and a group of right-wing Orthodox rabbis oppose it.

Clinton announced Friday that parts of the military ban on gays and lesbians would be eased for six months pending detailed congressional hearings on his intention of ending such discrimination for good.

In the meantime, new recruits will no longer be asked to specify their sexual orientation, and homosexuality will not automatically be grounds for outright dismissal from the military. But discharge proceedings against gays will continue, though court action will be postponed for the time being.

Of Clinton’s compromise, Barret Brick, executive director of the World Congress of Gay and Lesbian Jewish Organizations, said, “If what the president is doing is seeking a way to get full implementation as swiftly as possible, that’s fine.

“But if it’s merely a matter of compromising with bigots, then it’s ultimately self-defeating and arguably shows a lack of leadership,” he said.

To not allow gay men and lesbians “to serve our country openly and proudly is a manifest injustice. The ban should not be permitted to stand one minute longer,” he said.

Rabbi Sharon Kleinbaum, religious leader of New York’s gay and lesbian Congregation Beth Simchat Torah, said that most of the community agrees with the two-step approach that has ended enforcement of the ban while Congress conducts a six-month policy review.

“Clinton has done the prophetic thing, by holding out a vision of the best that we can be, but he has to be pragmatic and build a consensus to get us there,” she said.

‘CAN’T FUNCTION NORMALLY’

The Jewish War Veterans of the United States, which claims to represent some 100,000 members, opposes homosexuals openly serving in the military.

At the group’s 1992 national convention, held in Baltimore last August, the members “overwhelmingly” approved a resolution describing the effect of open gays and lesbians in the military as “insidious,” according to Sgt. Warren Dolny, the group’s national commander.

“The major problem is that when they’re (gays and lesbians) open and accepted, they may be more aggressive than they were when they were not,” said Dolny.

“If a soldier is concerned about that, he can’t function normally. When another man or woman looks at you in the barracks or in the open showers or toilets, and perhaps you perceive lust in that person’s eyes, you’re not very comfortable. You can’t be in that mental condition,” he said.

The JWV resolution called on the Pentagon to “enforce regulations which forbid homosexual acts amongst U.S. military personnel,” because 42 percent of soldiers infected with HIV, the virus that causes AIDS, admitted to homosexual sex. It pointed out that “in the last 10 years, the Department of Defense has expended $3 billion on AIDS-infected military personnel.”

When asked why the resolution cites as its reason the minority of HIV-positive soldiers who have had gay sex and does not address the fact that the majority are apparently heterosexual, Dolny said that the membership voted it in, “and if that’s the argument they picked, so be it.”

The JWV’s incorporation papers state that among the group’s purposes are to “encourage the doctrine of universal liberty, equal rights and full justice to all men, and to combat the powers of bigotry and darkness wherever originating and whatever the target.”

In light of those goals, Dolny was asked how he felt about the Jan. 28 decision of a federal judge in California to strike down the Pentagon’s exclusion of gays and lesbians as unconstitutional.

In that case, Judge Terry Hatter instructed the Navy to permanently reinstate Petty Officer V. Keith Meinhold, who was discharged last year after saying he is gay on national television.

‘CAN’T TURN OUR BACKS’ ON GAY-BASHING

Dolny said he personally would back the decision. “We support the Constitution, and if the policy is decided to be discriminatory, then I support that,” he said.

But the leader of Reform Judaism, Rabbi Alexander Schindler, is troubled by the JWV’s stance against homosexuals in the military.

Schindler, who is president of the Union of American Hebrew Congregations, recently wrote a letter to a JWV spokesman, Howard Metzger, saying he was “appalled that such an antediluvian attitude still persists within a group that calls itself Jewish.”

“We, who were beaten in the streets of Berlin cannot turn our backs to the plague of gay-bashing,” the Reform leader wrote Sept. 30.

Schindler served in the Army for four years during World War II, was wounded in action and awarded the bronze star for bravery. “And I can tell you that the only moral problems we ever encountered were from our heterosexual comrades in arms,” he wrote.

The Reform leader had urged Clinton, and President Bush before him, to overturn the ban against gays and lesbians.

On the opposite end of the rabbinic spectrum, the Rabbinical Alliance of America, a 400-member organization of stringently. Orthodox rabbis, urged last week that the ban be upheld.

President Clinton’s effort to overturn it “really sends a message to all the children in the country that homosexuality is an acceptable lifestyle, which is completely against Torah Judaism,” said Rabbi Herschel Kurzrock, administrative judge of the Rabbinical Alliance’s beth din, or rabbinical court.

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