Why Some Religious Israelis are Saying Women are Weakening the Army
A closer look at the religious sector’s disdain over co-ed service, a field Israel is leading in.
BY ANDREW TOBIN, JTA/THE JERUSALEM POST, NOVEMBER 9, 2017
A group of leading Orthodox rabbis met with the Israeli army’s chief of staff to complain.
According to Israel’s Arutz Sheva news website, the rabbis told Gadi Eisenkot on Tuesday that the growing ranks of female combat soldiers in the Israel Defense Forces are creating an immodest environment. They demanded changes to accommodate observant male soldiers.
The meeting was the latest expression of discontent by Israeli traditionalists with the military’s push in recent years to integrate women into combat units. They have decried what they see as the imposition of a progressive social agenda — not only on religious grounds but, in a new tactic, saying it undermines the army’s effectiveness.
Under Eisenkot, who became chief of staff nearly three years ago, the army has filled a growing number of combat positions with women. In March, the IDF introduced the fourth predominately female infantry brigade and let women serve in tanks for the first time. This year, the army said it expects the number of female “fighters” to reach 2,500. That’s more than four times the number just prior to Eisenkot’s arrival, and a jump to 7 percent of all combat soldiers from 3 percent.
Some religious and conservative Israelis have alleged that the changes are creating a dangerously sexualized atmosphere, with men and women training, eating, sleeping, showering and going to the bathroom in close quarters. Former high-ranking military figures are among the critics.
Last November, ex-military chief rabbi Brig.-Gen. (res.) Yisrael Weiss warned that after a man and a woman served nine months together in a tank, “a little tank soldier would be born.” The same week, Col. (res.) Yonatan Branski, claimed that whenever members of a mixed-gender unit report for duty, “all the birth control sells out at the base canteen.”
Branski, an Orthodox researcher at the Jerusalem Institute for Strategic Studies, a new conservative security think tank, told JTA that sex is a distraction in many areas of the army where men and women serve together. However, he said, it is much a bigger problem in combat units because fighters serve together under unusually intimate conditions and cannot afford to be distracted.