Major General Moti Almoz, the head of the Israeli army’s Manpower Directorate, awoke one day this week from a protracted coma and discovered that the Israel Defense Forces has military dancers.
A short video that went viral of Israeli teenage sensation Noa Kirel performing at an army base on Independence Day, accompanied by two excited backup dancers in uniform, evoked a little mockery online. It instantly triggered a policy change: the IDF shall have no more soldier dancers, Almoz decreed immediately. The embarrassment is over: Move along, there’s nothing to see here anymore.
One hopes that the Manpower Directorate chief was also aware before this event that the IDF has military dancers. It is his job also to know that the army orchestra has a majorette, battalion pastry chefs, Torah scribes, and deejays.
These jobs appear in countless army PR pieces. When the army isn’t having a problem about unnecessary jobs, it brags about them. I haven’t seen the Manpower chief rushing to cancel the guard duty services that soldiers provide to the lawbreakers in illegal outposts.
We’re prepared to send soldiers to risk their lives protecting violent scofflaws but dancers – well, that doesn’t look good. The IDF even spelled it out for us: “They thought the dancers looked too effeminate,” journalist Tzahi Dabush reported on Army Radio.
We can be clear about what the Manpower Directorate prefers just to imply: We’re glad to draft gays, but leave the effeminate ones at home, please. The dancers wondered what difference there is between them and military singers. They are right. There is no military need for a dancer, singer or pastry chef. Thus, beyond the homophobia of it, Almoz’s decision is mainly an attempt at distraction. Take the dancers, but don’t touch our sprinkler commanders.
Instead of mocking the dancers, we ought to start having a serious discussion about the IDF which has been more than just an army for a long time. There are historical and social reasons for this, but the main reason is the compulsory draft.
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The IDF is essentially a large organizational framework for national service. There are soldier teachers, soldier magicians and soldier baton twirlers. The army has more people than jobs, and it shows.
This is why the IDF is lenient about draft exemptions.
In 2018, there was a 30-percent increase over the previous year in the number of exemptions issued for emotional or psychological causes. The army exempts people wholesale, just so afterwards we can sneer at “draft dodgers”; in the same way, we nurture a hatred for the ultra-Orthodox who refuse to serve, without pausing to ponder the implications of this draft or why the IDF went to the trouble of falsifying their draft figures for years. The only exemptions they make difficult, and penalize for, are exemptions for reasons of conscience – for how dare anybody doubt the need for the IDF.
The only Knesset members who ever called canceling the compulsory draft and making the IDF a professional army were Mossi Raz and Yehuda Glick. This would require a complex discussion for which there is no cut-and-dried answer, so it was also rejected outright. It’s easy to fight with the ultra-Orthodox, to laugh at dancers or collectively scorn people who were exempted by the army. Politicians have been making hay from these arguments for years. All you have to do is issue a statement to the press about the latest “draft dodger” or, like the politicians from the IDF, get rid of the dancers.
There will always be another draft dodger to despise, another job to belittle. This has become a longstanding Israeli tradition, evidence of our complicated evasive maneuvers to avoid addressing the reality. We all play a role in this vast lie. We’ll have dozens of debates about nothing substantive – anything to avoid seriously discussing canceling the compulsory draft, to avoid touching “the army of the people.” But maybe once we could try to have a discussion about the real issue at stake and not just release more hot air. Let’s try. Who knows, we might even get somewhere.