We are already heading in a dangerous direction with female representation in this new government. Will we allow this to happen in the IDF as well?.
IDF CHIEF of Staff Lt.-Gen. Aviv Kohavi speaks at a conference of the Institute for National Security Studies, in Tel Aviv last week. Last year, Kohavi condemned instances of sexual assault and vowed to root them out, but not much has changed, says the writer. / (photo credit: AVSHALOM SASSONI/FLASH90)
Over the last couple of weeks, Israeli women have taken to social media to voice their anger and frustration over the recent letter from senior religious Zionist rabbis discussing the issue of sexual harassment in the Israel Defense Forces.
As some of us may know, Israeli women serve two mandatory years in the IDF. The army makes exemptions for medical and mental health reasons or if the person comes from a sector of the country that isn’t required to do mandatory services.
The army also gives women special exemptions if they are married or pregnant and for religious purposes. Yet, a growing voice in Israeli religious society is pushing for women to opt out of the army and instead choose National Service.
Female IDF soldiers of the Bardales Battalion (credit: HADAS PARUSH/FLASH90)
Does the IDF have an internal problem with women?
It seems the IDF has an internal problem that it needs to address. A report from 2021 says that a third of Israeli female soldiers experience sexual harassment during their mandatory service. A State Comptroller’s Report found that less than half of the Israeli female soldiers who experienced harassment filed a complaint. Of those, 44% said their complaints were not handled properly, and 26% stated that their complaints were not handled at all. Unfortunately, this isn’t unusual in what are considered “male-dominated” environments.
“Any attack on sexual grounds, in speech or deed, is an attack on human dignity and constitutes a severe breach [of army protocol].”
Last year, IDF Chief of Staff Lt.-Gen. Aviv Kohavi condemned instances of sexual assault and vowed to root them out of the army. Kohavi stated, “Any attack on sexual grounds, in speech or deed, is an attack on human dignity and constitutes a severe breach [of army protocol].” Kohavi vowed to educate and instill values, ensure accountability and punish severely when sexual assault occurs in the future.
Not much changed in the year since Kohavi made his vow.
One would assume that given these issues, leaders in Israel would do everything in their power to ensure that the army becomes a safer place for women and would push for accountability in any harassment. Yet, a public letter published by these rabbis from the religious Zionist camp stated that “for generations, the Rabbinate Council has determined that women should not serve in the army,” and that “conscription of women mekalkel et hashura” (lit., spoils the line). They went even further to say that, because of sexual harassment, women should not serve in the IDF.
I must be transparent; I never served in the IDF. I moved to Israel at 27, after the age cutoff for new immigrants. So while I am writing about this issue with limited experience in the IDF, this is about highlighting a problem and giving a voice and platform to female soldiers whom I respect and admire and who are deeply upset that this is how religious leaders are handling sexual harassment.
It’s always easier to blame the victim than it is to address a problem in a system.
The letter from these rabbis comes at a time when more religious girls are enlisting in the IDF, despite the historical opposition or stigma. A colleague of mine, Faran Raz, who served as a female combat commander in the Search & Rescue Unit, states, “We, female fighters who served in the IDF, risked our physical and mental safety to protect each and every citizen of our country, including the rabbis who signed the letter. They claim that we “spoiled,” but we foiled terrorist attacks, served in tense areas and contributed greatly to the security of Israel.”
“We, female fighters who served in the IDF, risked our physical and mental safety to protect each and every citizen of our country, including the rabbis who signed the letter. They claim that we ‘spoiled,’ but we foiled terrorist attacks, served in tense areas and contributed greatly to the security of Israel.”
Imagine giving up years of your life to protect your people and country and then being told that your mere presence “spoils” the army.
Faran continued, “Although I finished my military service as a fighter, unfortunately, I still feel the need to fight for our basic rights as women here… this letter is dangerous. Words lead to actions, and I can’t imagine Israel without women serving in the army.”
We are already heading in a dangerous direction with female representation in this new government. Will we allow this to happen in the IDF as well? Several leaders in our new government oppose women serving in the IDF, even though many play a vital role in the safety of the State of Israel.
It is irresponsible to downplay the role that women contribute to the army. The Jerusalem Post just published a beautiful piece on Israeli women in the air force who are breaking the glass ceiling. One story describes the journey of Lt.-Col. M. who has worked for the Israel Air Force for 22 years and is one of the highest-ranking women in the 122nd “Nachshon” Squadron, serving as an airborne ground-control interceptor. Lt.-Col. M has been protecting Israel’s skies for 22 years; she defends against hostile infiltrations, and identified two Hezbollah drones this past summer.
Hers is one of many stories of women playing an integral role in the safety of the Jewish state through the IDF.
While the IDF takes on a strong moral code of conduct, like anything managed by humans it is far from perfect. While those who seek to harm the Jewish state will try to weaponize these issues against Israel, it should not stop us from trying to address and better the situation.
The IDF must deal with the issue of sexual assault. Moreover, as a society, we must reject the comments made by religious leaders and politicians that women “spoil the line” and label it as discrimination. The essence of those statements does not reflect Judaism’s view on women.
As a new immigrant, I am proud of my female friends and colleagues in Israel who have accomplished so much. Women in Israel have made significant contributions to the army and the greater Israeli society.
While Israel has done a lot to advance the status of women, we still have a long way to go. I hope we can break barriers in Israel to shape a better future so that when it’s time for our daughters to enlist, they will be in safer hands.
The writer is a social media activist with over 10 years of experience working for Israeli, Jewish and cause-based NGOs. She is the co-founder and COO of Social Lite Creative, a digital marketing firm specializing in geopolitics.