IDF Must Bar Soldiers From Leaving Events Over Women's Singing, Officer Says

Decision of Maj. Gen. Orna Barbivai, head of the Israel Defense Forces' personnel directorate, expected to contradict wishes of many rabbis.

Maj. Gen. Orna Barbivai, head of the Israel Defense Forces' personnel directorate, is expected to recommend that the Chief of Staff continue obliging soldiers to take part in formal ceremonies in which women sing, despite the objections of many rabbis.

The army "must make it possible for every female soldier and any woman to sing at any ceremony and on any stage. We must enable both religious soldiers and women to have a significant army service, and [we must] not exclude them from tasks," said Barbivai, who recently was appointed by the Chief of Staff, Benny Gantz, to examine the role of women and religious soldiers in the IDF. She was speaking to journalists ahead of the November draft.

barbivai - Moti Milrod - November 23 2011
Moti Milrod

At the same time, sources in the general staff believe there is possible room to maneuver for unit commanders with regard to entertainment that is not part of formal ceremonies or operational duties.

According to data presented by Barbivai, the number of draftees who are interested in going into combat units is still increasing. A total of 76.3 percent of recruits with the appropriate medical profile are interested in combat service, as opposed to 74.2 percent in last November's draft. Some 93 percent of those eventually assigned to be fighters asked for combat service, and all fighters will be assigned according to one of the three top preferences which they marked on the selection questionnaire, she said.

"Fortunately the data also show an increase in the willingness to enter an officers' course," said Barbivai.

She added that the IDF will continue to do as much as possible to raise the number of ultra-Orthodox men who serve. This year, 1,200 ultra-orthodox men are expected to be drafted into the army.

At the same time, Barbivai expressed her concern that one out of every four men obliged to serve is not recruited. (More than one half of those who are exempted, 13 percent of every year's draft, are ultra-Orthodox, released on the grounds that their vocation is studying the Torah at a yeshiva ).

Officers in the general staff are especially concerned with the low number of women who are recruited. A total of 40.9 percent of the women supposed to serve do not go to the army at all. The vast majority (35 percent ) sign a declaration that they cannot serve because of religious reasons.

Army officers describe the process whereby women are released on religious grounds as being "unacceptably easy." It is estimated that about one quarter of the women released are not religious at all and actually studied at secular schools. But all efforts to bring about a change in legislation to make it harder for women to evade service have thus far failed.

Despite the aforementioned data, the personnel directorate continues to plan according to the model of a people's army, that obliges everyone to serve. Officers in the general staff explain that this is due to the shaky political and security situation in the Middle East and the concern that the situation will deteriorate on the borders and in the territories.

The manpower division is considering the possibility of introducing differential service based on tracks and duties (in which some of the soldiers in administrative jobs will serve less than three years ), but at this stage new decisions have not been made and the IDF is objecting to a significant shortening of compulsory service.

The IDF is preparing to pare down some five percent of its manpower in the standing army - mainly junior officers and non-commissioned officers who serve for a restricted period with limited social benefits. The realization of this plan depends on the final decisions over the size of cuts to the defense budget.