Editorial

Religious Zionists Have Defeated Israel's Female Soldiers

Israel's army has capitulated to the rabbis’ pressure on women. This theocratic pattern of behavior isn’t characteristic of any army in any other democratic society

FILE PHOTO: Israeli soldiers at a ceremony
David Bachar

Religious Zionist rabbis’ fierce campaign against integrating women into combat units has borne fruit. This week, the army issued amendments to the Joint Service Order, which governs service by women and men in mixed-gender units. The new version leaves no room for doubt: The army has capitulated to the rabbis’ pressure.

The basis for excluding women from many jobs was laid down in the original order, which stated, for instance, that a religious male soldier is entitled to ask to serve in a separate-sex unit or to refrain from engaging in activities together with female soldiers. The fact that religious male soldiers outnumber female soldiers in combat units, combined with the backing they received from their rabbis, resulted in female soldiers being treated as a hazard to modesty whose damage must be reduced by limiting their access to meaningful jobs.

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Not only were these original limitations retained in the amended order, but they were made even more severe. Now, religious officers and NCOs are also entitled to refuse to serve in mixed units.

Moreover, the original order’s important statement that service for both genders will, insofar as possible and unless stated otherwise, not be implemented “through separating male and female soldiers” has been removed from the amended order. Instead, the order now gives pride of place to the army’s obligation to respect the beliefs of all its soldiers. But what value does such a vague statement have at a time when the army recognizes the beliefs only of religious soldiers?

The amended order makes it clear that joint service is no longer the norm. The male viewpoint and the Jewish legal one have been given priority over female and secular viewpoints. Religious belief trumped equality.

Even worse, in order to draft the current order, the Israel Defense Forces conducted a dialogue with Orthodox rabbis that was hidden from the public eye. These rabbis aren’t elected officials; their power stems from their ability to threaten the army by influencing their students’ choice of where to serve. This theocratic pattern of behavior isn’t characteristic of any army in any other democratic society.

It is the job of elected officials, not army officers, to formulate the arrangements that govern relations between the sexes in the public sphere. The legislature must take this authority away from the army, reformulate the joint service policy and decide between competing values in a transparent manner, as was the norm in the past.

The above article is Haaretz's lead editorial, as published in the Hebrew and English newspapers in Israel.