zamir - Tomer Appelbaum - July 20 2011
Former IDF Human Resources chief Avi Zamir Photo by Tomer Appelbaum
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Senior General Staff officers sharply condemned the former head of the Israel Defense Forces' Personnel Directorate, Maj. Gen. Avi Zamir, for a letter he sent to colleagues recently warning of the army's growing religious extremism, saying that he was as responsible for the situation as anyone.

"The document was written from the perspective of a pundit," one officer told Haaretz. "Where was Zamir during the past four years?

"A lot of what Zamir describes in the document was in his immediate area of responsibility, so why didn't he do something?" the officer asked. "It's a no-brainer to submit such a document just as you are getting ready to leave."

Zamir's document described what he termed the Military Rabbinate's increasing influence at the expense of the Education Corps, as well as the harm being done to women's advancement in the army by the enforcement of strict rules of modesty demanded by the rabbis.

The General Staff officers said there was a great deal of truth to Zamir's observations, but they would have expected him to confront these developments at a much earlier stage.

Zamir's document was partially based on a study done for the chief of staff's adviser on women's issues, Brig. Gen. Gila Kalifi-Amir. The study found that women were being excluded from key positions in the army due to a strict interpretation of the "appropriate integration" order, which set rules to reduce interaction between strictly observant male soldiers and female soldiers.

Kalifi-Amir said implementing these restrictions has caused "untenable" situations and smacked of "extreme religious coercion."

Kalifi-Amir's criticism of "appropriate integration" sparked a major confrontation with IDF Chief Rabbi Brig. Gen. Rafi Peretz. Senior officers in the Military Rabbinate have tried to block Dr. Neri Horowitz, a civilian who did the research for Kalifi-Amir, from lecturing to soldiers.

Yisrael Weiss, a former IDF chief rabbi, expressed regret over Zamir's document, telling the religious radio station Radio Kol Hai that "during his tenure, Zamir knew how to sensitively resolve problems that came up. It's not proper to attack the system a minute after you leave."

Rabbi Uri Regev, the director of Hiddush, an organization to promote religious freedom and equality, demanded that Defense Minister Ehud Barak and Chief of Staff Lt. Gen. Benny Gantz appoint an independent civilian body to examine the relationship between the army and religion.

"Zamir's warnings justify the establishment of a reliable and pluralistic civilian body to reevaluate this relationship, given a situation in which freedom of religion and conscience is under a growing threat," Regev wrote.

The Raananim movement, headed by reserve officers from the religious Zionist sector, criticized Zamir's document.

"It's unfortunate that there are people who are determined to start extraneous arguments in the people's army," the group said in a statement.