For the past decade, a phenomenon has been occurring in the military cemetery on Mount Herzl that goes against one of the main principles of the visionary of the State of Israel who gave the mountain its name: separation between the state − in this case, the army − and religion. Soldiers are being differentiated by religion after death, with those whom rabbis have decided are Jewish being buried in the cemetery’s central section, while Christians, Muslims and others are in a section off to the side. Those who were deemed second-class citizens in life in the Jewish state are also relegated to second-rate status in their burial, with the consent of the Israel Defense Forces.
In and of itself, this is an unconscionable disgrace. Anyone who has visited the military cemeteries of the armies who liberated Europe from the Nazis − armies that lost thousands and tens of thousands in fierce battles − sees Stars of David among the rows of crosses. The brotherhood of comrades in arms does not stop with death. There is no justification for a different policy in Israel.
Together with Jews, the members of other religions − or those who define themselves as Jews but do not meet the criteria of the Rabbinate − serve and die in the IDF. Military cemeteries must be egalitarian and free of all religious discrimination. Orthodox rules must not be allowed to threaten a veto on the burial of non-Jews alongside Jews.
Last week, IDF Chief of Staff Lt. Gen. Benny Gantz showed just how scandalous this policy is. He announced that, in a pre-Memorial Day ceremony, he would be placing a small national flag on the grave of the soldier most recently buried in the Mount Herzl cemetery. However, he placed the flag on the grave of the most recently killed soldier in the central section, ignoring the grave of the more recently killed soldier who had been excluded from the central section.
Gantz is not the first chief of staff to focus on the Jewish section. Three of his predecessors did likewise, including the current defense minister, Moshe Ya’alon. Thus, decisions with public significance are based on a routine of rigid thinking, decisions that Gantz did not bother to reexamine. Only after the incident was made public did the IDF and Defense Ministry decide on a new procedure: The chief of staff will place a small flag on the grave of the soldier most recently killed who is buried on Mount Herzl, whoever that soldier is, and will also place a flag on the grave of the latest soldier killed who is buried in the central (Jewish) section.
The State of Israel must strive for complete civil equality in all areas of its existence. There is no place for discrimination. Not in the IDF and not on Mount Herzl.
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