Female soldier, Lotem Stapleton, a physical education officer, demonstrates a move during a training session in Krav Maga, an Israeli self-defense technique, at a military base in the Golan Heights March 1, 2017..
(photo credit: NIR ELIAS / REUTERS)
Rabbi Shmuel Eliyahu, one of the most senior leaders of the conservative wing of the National Religious community, has called for the ousting of IDF Chief of Staff Lt.-Gen. Gadi Eisenkot due to growing discontent within the sector regarding the army’s integration of women into all branches.
Eliyahu was reacting to a ruling given by another senior figure in the National Religious community, Rabbi Shlomo Aviner, in which he said National Religious yeshiva students should not enlist to the IDF because it is hard to avoid serving with women.
The broader issue of concern for Aviner and Eliyahu is known as the “IDF joint-service protocol,” which works to integrate women into all branches of the armed forces. This initiative started in 2016 and generated severe opposition from conservative elements in the National Religious sector, which has a high rate of enlistment, especially to combat units.
Speaking on Army Radio on Wednesday morning, Eliyahu said Aviner is a responsible rabbi who loves the IDF and has many students who serve in combat roles, even reaching senior positions in the army. He would not have said what he did without good cause, he said.
“If he [Aviner] has reached this situation where he said what he did, then apparently Eisenkot needs to wake up, and the prime minister needs to tell him to go home,” Eliyahu told Army Radio.
The comments made by Eliyahu and Aviner set off a firestorm of protest, with several ministers and MKs denouncing the rabbis’ remarks.
Defense Minister and Yisrael Beytenu leader Avigdor Liberman said he severely condemned “crass intervention of external elements, including rabbis – respected as they might be – in IDF matters.”
“The IDF isn’t a feminist army or a chauvinist army,” he said. “Its considerations are operative alone.” He called on Eliyahu and Aviner to retract their comments and refrain from making similar comments in the future.
Bayit Yehudi leader and Education Minister Naftali Bennett also protested the comments of the rabbis, calling Eliyahu’s call for Eisenkot to be fired “insolent.”
“These calls stem from a sincere but erroneous fear by certain groups that the IDF has adopted a radically liberal and feminist agenda at the expense of operational [effectiveness] and being victorious in war,” he said.
“I totally reject any type of call to refuse to enlist... The IDF belongs to us all, but it is not programmed according to your wishes,” Bennett said in reference to the rabbis’ comments.
Rabbi Haim Druckman, the most senior National Religious leader of the mainstream community, later rejected Aviner’s call not to enlist and Eliyahu’s call for Eisenkott to resign, telling Channel 2 News that the comments were “mistaken” and wrong.
On a similar issue, Bayit Yehudi MK Bezalel Smotrich, who like Eliyahu belongs to the conservative wing of the National Religious community, spoke critically of the appointment yesterday of a female IAF pilot to the role of deputy commander of a combat squadron of F-15s.
“There are roles for men and roles for women,” he told Kan’s Reshet Bet Radio.
“That’s how God created the world, and that is what’s good for the world. Anyone who tries to blur these very simple distinctions does an injustice to himself and to the world.”
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu also weighed in on the issue, saying he was “proud that we have our first female air force commander...
Not only do I not condemn the chief of staff, I praise him and the air force commander.” He said he expected similar such appointments in the future.
Likud MK Sharren Haskel, who served in the Border Police, which undertakes security and law-enforcement operations, rejected Smotrich’s comments, saying gender does not define professionalism and determination.
The Ne’emanei Torah Va’Avodah organization, a moderate national-religious group, described Aviner and Eliyahu’s comments as “Haredification,” and said that the “slander and demonization that the rabbis are issuing is extremely severe and not connected to the reality on the ground.”
NTA added that the organization trusted national-religious girls and boys to deal with their interactions with the opposite sex in accordance with Jewish law, and to serve as an example and model for how Israeli society can live together, “religious and secular, Haredi and minorities.”