Top Israeli Army Officials Meet With LGBT, Women's Groups to Discuss Coed Service

Civil society groups voice concerns about mixed-gender units and the exclusion of women in the IDF in 'historic' meeting

Israeli fighters in the mixed-gender Caracal battalion, October 2016.
Eliyahu Hershkowitz

Representatives of women’s organizations, the gay community and the Reform movement met with top Israel Defense Forces officials on Sunday to discuss the army's recent order for mixed-gender units.

The joint service order, which was introduced a few months ago and updated the army's standing orders on coed army service, created an uproar among rabbis – but also with human rights and feminist organizations.

Maj. Gen. Moti Almoz, the head of the IDF's Manpower Directorate, and Brig. Gen. Sharon Nir, the chief of staff’s advisor on gender matters, talked to the representatives of the Israel Women’s Network, the Reform Center for Religion and State, Be Free Israel and Pride Blue and White (Gaava Kachol Lavan).

During the 90-minute meeting the groups presented their concerns over the joint service order as well as the program to expand the number of ultra-Orthodox soldiers in the army. Almoz said that his office will handle with any problematic instances of exclusion of women once his office receives information about them, reported a number of people who attended the meeting.

Although the organizations originally wanted to discuss their viewpoints with the army's Chief of Staff Gadi Eisenkot, he was not present at the meeting. Omer Nahmany, founder and director of Pride Blue and White, said the groups were told the only reason he didn't attend was due to scheduling issues. “I don’t understand why rabbis have access to the chief of staff but civil society and religion and state organizations do not,” said Nahmany, whose organization works to integrate women and gays into the IDF.

However, Elinor Davidov, the director of the Women's Exclusion Project for the Israel Women’s Network, said the meeting with Almoz and Nir in itself was historic.

In March, Eisenkot met with 15 rabbis who head pre-army preparatory programs and yeshivas (and one woman who heads a pre-army program for girls) to discuss their complaints about the joint service order. After the meeting, Eisenkot announced the reinstatement of a gender-segregated company for officer cadets from combat units, which had previously been eliminated, at the Officer’s Training Base. The rest of the companies at the base remained mixed.