Israeli Justices Wait for the Army to Weigh in on Drafting Women to Elite Units

Petitioners seeking access to elite combat roles cite 'commitment to equality,' while justices urge patience: 'This is a very complex issue in a very sensitive system'

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A female IDF combat soldier in a training exercise in the south, August 31, 2015.
A female IDF combat soldier in a training exercise in the south, August 31, 2015.Credit: Eliyahu Hershkovitz

The High Court of Justice on Monday heard a petition by four young women against the Israel Defense Forces and Defense Minister Benny Gantz, demanding the court allow them to be screened for the military's most elite combat units. A ruling will be issued at a later date.

The draft candidates, Mika Kleiger, Mor Lidani, Gali Nishri and Omer Sarya, want to be able to apply to all units, including the Sayeret Matkal reconnaissance unit, Shayetet 13 and Duvdevan, in accordance with their established screening procedures.

The petition was heard by Supreme Court President Esther Hayut and Justices Menachem Mazuz and Yael Willner. Mazuz said during the hearing that the military doesn’t necessarily oppose the move, but has set up a special team to examine the issue carefully.

“This is a very complex issue in a very sensitive system,” Mazuz said. “We are dealing with the security of the State of Israel. We are dealing with the physical and mental health of those serving. The military could perhaps be quicker and more efficient, but we are in a process. It’s not so easy to just say that we have to decide now and that everything is so simple and clear.”

Willner added that in principle, the court ought to wait for the military to finish its staff work on the issue.

The petitioners, from right to left: Mor Lidani, Gali Nishri, Mika Kleiger and Omar SerayaCredit: Emil Salman

The justices were referring to a team the IDF set up in August to examine the possibility of integrating women into combat roles that were not previously open to them. “The team will examine the issue of integrating women into additional combat roles in the IDF from all perspectives – the physiological-medical perspective, the perspective of assignments and personnel planning, screening mechanism, developing future commanders, issues related to reserve duty, perspectives relating to joint [male-female] service and more,” the army said at the time.

The petitioners seek to have the court declare that closing off elite combat roles to women is “invalid and contradicts the principle of equal opportunities and is against the law.” The petition, submitted through attorneys Inor Bertental, Amihai Weinberger, Adi Klein and Revital Applebaum, states, “The IDF is committed to equality and non-discrimination on the basis of gender.”

In June, a former commander of Sayeret Matkal, Col. (res.) H.P., who headed the unit from 2016 to 2019, and his deputy, Lt. Col. (res.) A.H., submitted a professional opinion to the effect that women should be permitted to enlist in the IDF’s elite units.

“We believe that women can serve successfully as fighters in Sayeret Matkal, and that integrating them as combat soldiers will yield a unique and significant contribution, both from an operational and an organizational perspective,” they wrote. “In our opinion, Sayeret Matkal is losing potential optimum value by limiting recruitment to the unit solely to men.”

This opinion, which was submitted by Bertental, also stated, “Giving up in advance on such a significant proportion of the population substantially undermines the size of the initial recruitment pool and thus dramatically reduces the potential to identify the talent needed for the unit. Gender diversity brings with it an expansion of the variety necessary for creativity.”

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