Top IDF Officers Urge Barak to Fight Religious Discrimination of Women

Appeal comes in response to a series of recent events, including the boycotting of military ceremonies by religious cadets due to women singing.

Nineteen reserve major generals sent a letter last night to Defense Minister Ehud Barak and IDF Chief of Staff Benny Gantz, imploring them not to allow harm to come to women's service in the army as a result of religious soldiers' demands.

The reserve officers indicated that their appeal comes in response to a series of recent events, including the boycotting of military ceremonies by religious cadets due to women singing. The petitioners warned in their letter about harm caused to the motivation of women to serve in the army, as well as to what they termed damage to "the fundamental values of Israeli society."

Benny Gantz - Yaron Kaminsky - 14112011
Yaron Kaminsky

Among other petitioners, the letter was signed by former heads of the Israel Air Force Avihu Bin-Nun and Amos Lapidot, and reserve major generals Menachem Einan and Zeev Livne.

The letter constitutes a new, dramatic level of intervention in an issue that has sparked controversy in the army in recent months. Outgoing head of the IDF personnel directorate, Major General Avi Zamir, stridently attacked the phenomenon of the exclusion of women in his departure letter to the chief of staff. Also, a report formulated by a consultant committee to the chief of staff related to the issue. Both of these documents were published by Haaretz.

Recently, Gantz asked the present head of the personnel directorate, Major General Orna Barbivai, to reexamine the army's treatment of the issue of "suitable integration" - that is the service of women and religious soldiers.

In their letter to Barak and Gantz, the reserve major generals wrote: "As people who served for many years in the IDF, we are writing to you about a subject of utmost importance. We do so out of genuine concern about the IDF's image as the people's army, and due to an authentic desire to preserve the army's strength, to protect the country, and to guard the fundamental democratic values of Israeli society."

The letter continues: "Recently, the media has reported several grave events pertaining to tension involving the service of religious soldiers and women soldiers in the IDF. Among other incidents, these include: religious-influenced demands that women take leave of combat positions, combat supporting positions and combat training positions to which they have been assigned; the separation of women soldiers from their units during ceremonies and official events as a result of religious considerations; demands to prevent women from singing at such events; and the demand that women be fenced in a closed, isolated area when Simhat Torah dances were held. This atmosphere harms the promotion of women to command roles in the IDF."

The writers continue: "We believe that it is the IDF's obligation to protect the rights of all people who serve in its ranks, and that joint service by women and men in the IDF is a cornerstone of its character as the people's army. The removal of women from an array of core positions, the separation of women from the public sphere, and the forcible imposition of behavioral norms suited to a small portion of the religious population upon the army as a whole - all this causes serious damage to the army's image, and does not adhere to the IDF's spirit and ethos."

The letter continues: "We also want to warn that continued harm to women in the IDF will have a negative impact upon women who approach draft age, and might bring about a situation in which women's service in the IDF will turn into merely a voluntary effort."

The letter writers call on Barak and Gantz to "issue immediate, detailed directives to IDF units, calling on them to refrain from imposing religious norms on male and female soldiers who do not [follow these norms]."

Also, the defense minister and IDF chief of staff, the letter insists, should "prevent harm being caused to women soldiers ... so as to stop the rolling snowball, a snowball which is liable in the future to harm the security of the State of Israel and the fundamental values of Israeli society as a whole."

Other major general reservists who signed the letter included former heads of the Israel Navy Ze'ev Almog and Shlomo Arel, Ori Orr, Yosef Geva, Rafael Vardi, Shlomo Gazit, Aviezer Ya'ari, Shlomo Lahat and Elad Peled.

קראו כתבה זו בעברית: אלופים במילואים לרמטכ"ל: עצור את ההקצנה הדתית בצבא