Operation Intimidation

Over the past few months, Israeli newscasts have been rife with statements from various religious Jewish streams expressing their discontent with the impending changes in IDF policy towards ultra-orthodox enlistment. A common remark often heard is “You do not really want ultra-Orthodox Jews in the IDF”.

Someone must have decided that the most effective way to remove the topic of IDF recruitment of yeshiva students from the public agenda was the employment of an intimidation campaign.  Any individual who is familiar with Israel understands that the IDF is one of the most important and central institutions of Israeli society. And maintaining high-quality and efficient military service are a top priority.

Ultra-orthodox strategists maintain that “If we can convince them that drafting yeshiva students will actually cause damage to the IDF, the Israeli public will put pressure on the government to repeal its decision to recruit the ultra-orthodox.”

Recently, the intimidation campaign has stepped up a level. Its aim is to persuade us that the enlistment of yeshiva students will damage the status of women in the IDF. Whoever is behind this calculated move obviously knows that the status of women is a critical issue to many in the non-orthodox world. If they can convince us that changing the current status quo will simultaneously damage the IDF and the status of women, surely we’ll jettison the whole idea of orthodox enlistment, or at least we’ll dilute the reform so that no significant change will actually be implemented.

In a sense they’re right. The structure of Israel’s security is very important and no action should be taken to put it at risk. As for the status of women, although Israel has come a long way in recent years in promoting the issue, there’s still room to improve.

For example, the 23 female Members of Knesset make up less than 20% of all members, and although this is the highest rate in the history of Israel – we are still lagging behind most of the western world. Interestingly, Rwanda leads the world first place with their representation of over 56% of women in parliament followed by Sweden, with 46.5% percent and South Africa is third with over 44% percent. The representation of women in Israel’s academic settings is also unpressive: the more advanced you get in degrees the fewer women there are, by the time you get to doctoral degrees, women make up only 24.6%  which is on average 10% less than the EU. A similar trend can be seen in the army, (although women can now serve in 90% of the positions, including at least 10 combat roles) as you go up through officer ranks, the representation of women decreases and they constitute only 26% of staff officers in the IDF.

The IDF is a melting pot of Israeli society (for better or worse), so we must be careful not compromise the status of women. Those who are spinning the media angle saying “you don’t really want the orthodox in the IDF” are beginning to see fruits for their efforts. Female senior IDF reserve officers have written an open letter to the Defense Minister and the Prime Minister saying that the rights of women cannot be compromised in the event that the ultra-orthodoxcommunity will serve in the IDF saying “we must not correct one injustice by creating another” and “do not make the people’s army into the men’s army.” These are all very noble sentiments but the question remains whether they are based on accurate assumptions to begin with.

I am not convinced.

During my military service and for the past 20 years of reserve duty, in the majority of my responsibilities I was not even around women, especially during a considerable period during which I did security patrols in West Bank settlements. So I say: let’s pack Glatt kosher military rations for orthodox soldiers and send them to guard settlements and checkpoints. There are countless tasks and roles to be done that do not include contact with women.

Those of us who have done countless hours guarding settlements know that it’s not a bad experience for someone who is religious. There were many times that I was invited to attend synagogue prayers between shifts, or invited for Shabbat meals at the homes of those I was guarding. Furthermore, we recently witnessed a terrorist attack on the Sinai-Israel border, which speaks of the significant need for the protection of the construction crews building the security fence in the southern Aravah desert – a desert isolated from society in general, and women in particular.

Lastly, I am not impressed by the hype regarding soldiers who choose not to participate in military ceremonies that include singing women. They should be free to excuse themselves, and the ceremonies will go on without them. In my opinion, this is an unconvincing scare campaign; we can enlist yeshiva students in the military without delegitimizing their beliefs and without degrading the status of women.

Despite what people may think, yes, we do want the Orthodox Jews to serve in the IDF.