Redefining secular-religious relations in the IDF

The debate is not about the secular force in the IDF wanting to exclude religious men from service, but primarily about how to prevent the inevitable increase in the number of religious personnel from threatening the status and role of women in the IDF, and from taking advantage of the army for purposes of religious indoctrination via the Chaplaincy Corps.

By
July 29, 2011 16:18
3 minute read.
A female IDF soldier paints a comrade with mud.

A female IDF soldier paints a comrade with mud.. (photo credit: IDF)

 
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In the Knesset debate last week on the proposal to establish committees of inquiry related to human rights organizations, United Torah Judaism MK Yisrael Eichler alluded to an article that had appeared that morning in Haaretz. The article dealt with a document issued by the outgoing head of the IDF Human Resources Division, Maj.- Gen. Avi Zamir, which called to stop the army from deteriorating into religious extremism, and to reregulate the relations between secular and religious military personnel.

According to Eichler, Zamir’s document and the Haaretz article were proof that human rights organizations, which receive funding from foreign sources, do not want religious servicemen in the IDF.

As an experienced journalist, familiar with secular positions, Eichler should know better, and his rhetoric just proves why it is so difficult to hold a practical and unemotional discussion on the subject. Everyone pulls the debate in a different political and ideological direction, frequently in flagrant disregard for the facts.

In fact the debate is not about the secular force in the IDF wanting to exclude religious men from service, but primarily about how to prevent the inevitable increase in the number of religious personnel from threatening the status and role of women in the IDF, and from taking advantage of the army for purposes of religious indoctrination via the Chaplaincy Corps.

In what way are the status and role of women being threatened? Since the beginning of the Zionist endeavor, women have struggled for equality in it. After the establishment of the state, this struggle was also directed, with a certain measure of success, toward the IDF. Women’s most recent achievement was the appointment of Orna Barbivai as Zamir’s replacement in the Human Resources Division, with the rank of major-general.

This feminist agenda was never accepted by religious circles in the country, which object to women serving in the IDF on principle. What is happening today is that growing numbers of religious soldiers and officers are refusing to be subject to women commanders and instructors, or to attend ceremonies in which women singers or performers participate.

An attempt was made in 2003 to regulate the contact between men and women in units in which both secular and religious personnel serve, by means of an order, but the order, entitled “appropriate integration” (shiluv ra’ui) deals only with separate living accommodations and avoidance of physical contact, and does not touch upon other pertinent issues. In the meantime, many women serving in the IDF feel that the ground is slipping from under their feet, and the motivation to serve within certain secular circles is being undermined. Clearly there is an urgent need to update the order and the regulations associated with it, especially since the current trend might lead to segregation, which nobody believes to be a good solution. Both sides will have to compromise.



As to the issue of indoctrination, here again the ground rules must be reviewed and organizational changes introduced. The fact that in the past, when secular, social-democratic forces were predominant, they used the IDF for indoctrination purposes, does not justify its being used today by the new elites for such purposes. In the past, when the melting-pot theory of society was prevalent in the country, there might have been some justification for such activities, but today, when cultural pluralism is in vogue, the IDF must be careful not to be seen to propagate a certain way of life.

While it is certainly legitimate for all parties and groups to try to propagate their beliefs and agendas, it is wrong to enable any of them to use the IDF for this purpose. It is therefore wrong for various religious circles to use the Chaplaincy Corps – which was established to offer religious services to those in the IDF requiring them, and to ensure that kashrut and respect for Shabbat were observed – for religious indoctrination.

The Education Corps is the body in the IDF responsible for all education issues, and the decision regarding what information and values are propagated in the name of the IDF must be based on as broad a consensus as possible – by no means a simple task. For example, when tours of Jerusalem are organized for soldiers, should they focus exclusively on Jewish sites and narratives, or should they also engage in Christian and Muslim ones? If someone is invited to lecture on human rights within the context of Israel’s control over a Palestinian population, should someone also be invited to lecture on what Halacha has to say on the issue? None of this is the business of the Chaplaincy Corps.

The writer is a former Knesset employee.

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