In the face of increasing reports of incidents in the Israeli army involving the exclusion of female soldiers from certain settings for religious reasons or requirements that they dress modestly, the army's chief personnel officer issued a letter to commanders on Sunday warning them to implement army policy protecting the rights of female soldiers to the letter.
In the letter, Maj. Gen. Moti Almoz, who heads the Israel Defense Forces Manpower Directorate, cited cases in which for reasons of religious modesty, female soldiers were been banned from wearing white shirts or bathing suits at social events sponsored for their units or at programs designed to enhance group cohesiveness.
"Such strict [practices] are in violation of army orders and policy, do unnecessary harm to wide-scale groups serving [in the army] and are inconsistent with the IDF commanders' responsibility," Almoz wrote. "The IDF is the country's army and our gates are open to all segments of Israeli society – secular and religious, women and men, ultra-Orthodox, minorities and volunteers." In its effort to "defend the people and the land," the army is above politics, Almoz said.
Almoz has said that even though the army's orders regarding exclusion of women and religious influence are clear, commanders have been giving their own interpretations to orders relating to joint army service by men and women that has resulted in discrimination against women. "Orders on the subject of appearance, dress, and joint service are obligatory, and they must be complied with word-for-word. No commander is authorized to decide on his own to apply them more strictly or leniently."
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Almoz wrote that commanders need to demonstrate involvement in the details of what is happening in their units and assert their authority clearly and without diverging from army policy.
The director of the Israel Women's Network, Michal Gera-Margaliot, expressed concern about recent media reports of incidents in the army of alleged discrimination against female soldiers and said Almoz's letter to the commanders must only be the beginning. Media reports and dozens of complaints received from female soldiers by the Israel Women's Network indicate that the problem is widespread, she said.
"It is good that the head of the Manpower Directortate has made it clear that cases in which female soldiers have been required to dress 'modestly' violate army orders, but the letter needs to be just the beginning if the army intends to work seriously to prevent women soldiers from being pushed aside and excluded," she said.
"The clarification from the head of the Manpower Directorate must be translated into clear training for all male and female soldiers regarding what is permissible and what isn't in the army's orders," Gera-Margaliot added. "The army needs to create an accessible and clear mechanism for looking into complaints by female and male soldiers from the field and take disciplinary action against commanders who violate the orders." The dignity and well-being of female soldiers needs to be a priority for commanders, she said, adding that accounts of humiliation of women soldiers must stop.