The army closed a mess hall to women and barred a female officer from entering when new recruits of the ultra-Orthodox Nahal battalion were having lunch, the Israel Defense Forces said.
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The incident happened at the Tel Hashomer induction base Thursday. The IDF explained the move by saying the army had promised that there would be no women around ultra-Orthodox recruits during their induction.
According to Channel 2 News, the battalion commander, Col. Uri Levi, said he thought most of the battalion’s new recruits were not ultra-Orthodox. “A minority come from ultra-Orthodox homes and some are not observant at all,” he wrote in a letter.
According to a reservist at the base Saturday, about 80 recruits were inducted into the battalion, most of them wearing the knitted skullcap identified with the religious-Zionist movement, which is generally more liberal on social affairs.
The reservist said a female officer who arrived at the mess hall was told she could not enter and eat because of the presence of the ultra-Orthodox recruits.
“If a female officer can’t sit in the mess hall on this day, we’ve gone crazy,” said the reservist, who said he knew ultra-Orthodox society well. “What if a group of settlers said they didn’t want to sit with Arabs or Druze, or that we couldn’t serve with Muslims?”
After the officer was barred from the mess hall, women soldiers who came to eat were sent to another mess hall usually reserved for officers, the reservist said.
About a year and a half ago a female combat soldier from the Border Police, who had finished her shift near Mevo Dotan in the northern West Bank, was denied entry to have dinner at a base where ultra-Orthodox soldiers were stationed.
After that incident the IDF said that although the ultra-Orthodox battalion was a male-only unit, women who needed to enter the base for whatever reason should not be barred from doing so.
“Service of ultra-Orthodox soldiers is carried out in coordination with their needs and without hurting other groups. Induction day for the ultra-Orthodox is carried out on a designated date,” the IDF’s Spokesman’s Office said about the recent incident.
“On that day the new soldiers eat in a mess hall intended for the inductees separately and in keeping with the rules of service on that track. The needs of all soldiers [on the base] are met fully and suitably in a mess room for soldiers stationed at the base, where they eat on a regular basis.”