State-funded Group Raising Money to Fight Against Coed Israeli Army Units

A right-wing group raising money for a nationwide PR campaign against mix-sex units is headed by the the director of Jerusalem’s Har Hamor Yeshiva, which receives millions of government funding every year.

Soldiers in the Caracal Battalion preparing for training exercise, 2015.
Eliyahu Hershkovitz

A right-wing nongovernmental organization that received government funds is paying for a countrywide public relations campaign against mix-sex units in the Israeli military. Dror Mesimot Leumiot (“dror national missions”) received some 50,000 shekels (around $12,000) last year from the Agriculture Ministry, which is headed by Uri Ariel of the right-wing Habayit Hayehudi party.

The NGO is headed by the director of Jerusalem’s Har Hamor Yeshiva, which receives millions of shekels of government funding every year.

As part of the campaign, which began a few weeks ago, banners with the legend “stop the joint service” have been hung from street-facing apartment balconies and activists have distributed at road and highway intersections flyers that claim that the service of women in the same units together with men impairs the army’s “professionalism” and “operational capabilities” and contributes to sexual harassment. The banners and flyers bear the name of a hitherto-unknown group, Ahim Leneshek (Brothers in Arms), which calls on soldiers to send in photos of unisex toilets on army bases and asks people to arrange to hang the banner from their own homes.

In a statement it issued when the campaign began, the Spokesperson’s Unit of the Israel Defense Forces said the army “condemns any attempt to [call for] refusal to serve. Statements calling to divide the army and insult people’s dignity must be opposed and denounced and everything possible must be done to continue to defend Israel by all who serve, from all segments of Israeli society, continuing to stress the values of victory, love of country, mission, comradeship and human dignity.”

The Facebook page of Brothers in Arms says the campaign is paid for with the “contributions of private individuals who care about the IDF and about the State of Israel.” An examination by Haaretz, however, determined that the organization that raises contributions for its campaign to attack the army received government funding last year.

Donations to the campaign are collected by Dror, which was established about five years ago to “promote public awareness by various means including through research, PR, education and legal action in the realm of religion and state, promotion of Torah studies and encouragement of settlement.”

Its founders are Meir Elyashar, the director of Har Hamor Yeshiva, and Elkana Babad, who led the fight to maintain the illegal outpost of Migron. They signed the documents establishing the association, in the presence of Bezalel Smotrich, now a Knesset member for Habayit Hayehudi. Last year, the association requested some 350,000 shekels in funding from the Agriculture and Rural Development Ministry, for a project in the settlement of Ma’aleh Efraim, and received around 50,000 shekels.

Other funding sources include the One Israel Fund, a U.S. organization that donates to settlements, and an unknown group calling itself H.S.S. Homeland. The state also supports the association indirectly, by allowing its donors to claim a tax deduction.

Elyashar confirmed that Dror raises money for the Brothers in Arms campaign. He said the campaign’s goals conform to the declared goals of the association that he heads, but he added that he was not involved personally in the campaign against coed military service. Elyashar declined to provide details about H.S.S. Homeland, a donor to his association, nor would he say who was in charge of the campaign against coed service.

Haaretz has determined that another group that has been active in recent months against mixed-sex IDF units, calling itself the Liba Center, also raises money through Dror. At sessions of the Knesset Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee that discussed the issue, members of Liba spoken out against coed units. Liba has also expressed ongoing support for Rabbi Yigal Levinstein, of the Eli pre-army preparatory program, who has made harsh public comments against homosexuality and against military service for women.