Religious women recognize the opportunities that service in army provides, a senior officer said on Wednesday in response to recent criticism of the army by religious Zionist rabbis over the issue of women serving in the military. “They know how to decide what’s good for them and what isn’t. They aren’t in the 17th century,” the officer told a briefing of military reporters.
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“It’s the religious community that has changed, not us,” he said. The Israel Defense Forces’ attitude toward women’s service, the high-ranking officer insisted, hasn’t undergone any significant change in recent years. “The fact that five years ago, 900 [religious] seminary girls enlisted, while today it’s 2,200, shows that the revolution wasn’t in the IDF, but in the religious community,” he said.
Since religious women are not drafted, all of those who serve enlist as volunteers. “The religious community raises smart young women who want a challenge, and they hear there’s an organization that knows how to utilize their capabilities to the fullest while also preserving their dignity,” the officer said, speaking against the backdrop of a recent campaign in which some 200,000 copies of a leaflet opposing women serving in the army were distributed. The leaflets were handed out door–to–door and at major intersections throughout the country and featured the heading “Save the IDF – Stop the Joint Service Order,” referring to the most recent order governing mixed-gender service in the army.
Calling it “a ridiculous campaign based on ignorance,” the officer made reference to Breaking the Silence, the controversial organization founded by IDF veterans that seeks to expose human rights abuses committed by the IDF. The organizers of the leafleting campaign, the officer said, are like Breaking the Silence. "We don’t talk to them.”
“This nonsense and stupidity rests on ignorance,” he said of the campaign against women serving in the IDF. “I knew that some of our decisions would lead to friction, and indeed they did, but there are also genies that have been let out of the bottle unnecessarily.”
The officer said mixed-gender battalions were set up to address the clear operational need for border security. The decision to consider letting women to serve in tanks also only applies to units engaged in routine security tasks, not to those on the front lines, he added.
The leafleting campaign had the involvement of some students from hesder yeshivas, where students combine army service with religious study. Students in the five-year hesder program spend just 17 months in the army and devote their remaining time to yeshiva study.
The army isn’t happy with the hesder program, the senior officer said, but it is for reasons unconnected to the leafleting. Referring to the hesder program, the officer said: “The army’s position in principle is that everyone should serve for three years less four months. So when I’m asked for my view on this issue, I say it isn’t desirable.” And he added: “The desirable thing would be for everyone to do full service, male or female.”