Appointing a Woman as the Israeli Army's Top Lawyer Is a Dubious Feminist Achievement

Yagil Levy
Yagil Levy
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Brig. Gen. Yifat Tomer-Yerushalmi.
Yagil Levy
Yagil Levy

The appointment of Brig. Gen. Yifat Tomer-Yerushalmi, the IDF chief of staff’s adviser on gender affairs, as the army’s next military advocate general – making her the second female major general in the history of the Israel Defense Forces – was celebrated as a feminist achievement. But this is a dubious achievement for a number of reasons.

First of all, a decade has passed since Orna Barbivai, the first female major general, was appointed, and for seven years no woman served on the IDF General Staff. It was even said that during the current term of Chief of Staff Aviv Kochavi, the promotion of women to senior posts suffered a setback. The feminist spokeswomen, who welcomed the achievement and complained about its rarity, took no responsibility. True, direct responsibility is that of the chiefs of staff and defense ministers, but the army acts the way it does for a simple reason: because it can.

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And it can because all the feminist activists, including female lawmakers, have lost interest in promoting gender equality in the army. More than a decade has passed since lawmaker Miri Regev threatened to enshrine in law the promotion of women in the army, a threat that may have led to the appointment of the first female major general. Since then, most of the female legislators as well as women’s organizations have given up the attempt to influence the army and have rarely clashed with it over the issue.

For this reason, the recent appointment has contributed to a blurring of the gap between the status of women in the IDF and in other armies, or in the public sector in Israel. Symbolically, their status has even eroded. The top army brass sees women as cheap labor, substitutes for men. This was David Ben-Gurion’s view, and not only has it not changed over the years, it has even become more pronounced in the rhetoric of the army’s leaders. Moreover, there are increased complaints from female soldiers about insults they suffer stemming from the view of commanders and soldiers that they compromise “modesty.”

Petitions to the High Court of Justice to incorporate women in combat roles only reinforce the gap, because the conduct of the committee appointed by the chief of staff in response to the petitions has been problematic.

The state’s position also reveals that there is no intention to institute gender equality in the army, as the law on military service requires, but rather to act according to the directives of the chief of staff. That is, to identify “combat roles in which women are not currently incorporated and there is room to consider incorporating women, in keeping with operational needs and meeting the required standards.” In Brig. Gen. Tomer-Yerushalmi’s role as adviser to the chief of staff on gender, she was part of this misguided committee.

Tomer-Yerushalmi’s appointment is not a feminist achievement, although, whether intentionally or not, it is part of the move to paint MAG (the Military Advocate General's office) in liberal colors. If it was headed until now by the first gay major general, now it will be headed by a woman. In fact, in recent years MAG has toed the policy line dictated by the IDF brass. For example, it retroactively legitimized the unrestrained fire at the end of the 2014 Gaza war, and the firing on protesters near the Gaza border fence, which killed dozens, and the rules of engagement during the recent Gaza operation, where half of those killed or injured were civilians, including dozens of children.

The Zionist left will probably find it difficult to face off against MAG, which is seemingly fulfilling a feminist vision, just as the army’s new top lawyer will find it difficult to clash with commanders in the field who demand aggressive rules of engagement to protect soldiers. The result, therefore, is not a feminist achievement, but rather another move to whitewash gender inequality and the exaggerated use of force.

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