IDF’s Highest-ranking Female Officer Retires

Army will still be left with four female brigadier generals after Maj. Gen. Orna Barbivai leaves

Gili Cohen
Gili Cohen
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Incoming head of the IDF Manpower Directorate Hagai Topolanski receives the rank of major general at a ceremony on Monday.
Incoming head of the IDF Manpower Directorate Hagai Topolanski receives the rank of major general at a ceremony on Monday.Credit: IDF
Gili Cohen
Gili Cohen

The highest-ranking female officer in the Israel Defense Forces is ending her three-year stint as head of the army’s personnel directorate on Tuesday and retiring from the army, leaving the IDF without a female major general in the General Staff.

Maj. Gen. Orna Barbivai will be succeeded in her post by Maj. Gen. Hagai Topolansky, a fighter pilot in the Israel Air Force. Major general is the highest rank possible below the chief of staff, a lieutenant general.

The army will still be left with four female brigadier generals, one rank lower than major general.

Two of those women are in Barbivai’s directorate: Brig. Gen. Merav Kirshner, who heads the manpower planning and administration division in the personnel directorate, and Michal Ben-Muvhar, who heads its staffing department. The other two are Brig. Gen. Sima Vaknin-Gil, the chief military censor, and Brig. Gen. Rachel Tevet-Wiesel, the women’s affairs adviser to IDF chief Benny Gantz.

Barbivai set several precedents during her military service. In addition to becoming the first major general, she was also the first female officer to serve as an adjutant in an IDF command and the first to head a corps other than the Women’s Corps, which was dismantled in 2001.

According to figures released by the IDF in 2012, women constituted 34 percent of all military conscripts but 51 percent of serving military officers.

Nevertheless, the proportion of women officers has been falling steadily. Data from this year show women making up 27 percent of standing army officers. Although in recent years there has been an increase of high-ranking female officers, a large gap remains. Only 18 percent of those ranked lieutenant colonel and up are women, and just 5 percent of those ranked colonel and above are women.

Orna Barbivai.Credit: Olivier Fitoussi

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