Barbivai: IDF doesn’t exclude female soldiers

MK Nachman Shai (Kadima) proposes bill criminalizing discrimination against women.

Female IDF soldiers at western wall (photo credit: Marc Israel Sellem)
Female IDF soldiers at western wall
(photo credit: Marc Israel Sellem)
The IDF appreciates the value of female soldiers and does not exclude women, Head of the IDF Manpower Directorate Maj.-Gen. Orna Barbivai told the Knesset Committee on the Status of Women on Monday. Meanwhile, MK Nachman Shai (Kadima) drafted a bill that would make discrimination against women a crime.
A recent incident in which religious soldiers walked out of an IDF ceremony because a female soldier was singing overshadowed the meeting, which was held so Barbivai could provide a general overview of women in the IDF.
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Although committee chairwoman MK Tzipi Hotovely (Likud) asked those in attendance to examine a wide range of IDF women’s issues, MKs and representatives of feminist NGOs interrupted Barbivai’s presentation, demanding that she discuss the singing issue and whether the IDF would cater to religious soldiers.
In response, Barbivai echoed IDF Chief of Staff Lt.-Gen. Benny Gantz’s statements from earlier on Tuesday that women will not be banned from singing in IDF activities.
At the same time, religious soldiers will only be required to be present when females sing if it is during official ceremonies.
MK Orit Zuarets (Kadima) expressed outrage at the IDF policy, saying that secular soldiers should also be able to opt out of entertainment activities.
MK Nissim Ze’ev (Shas) said that differentiating between official ceremonies and entertainment is a step in the right direction, and that religious soldiers should be allowed to serve in units and bases that are free of women if that is their choice.
He reiterated his suggestion, originally presented at a Knesset Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee meeting last week, that religious soldiers be permitted to wear earplugs if they are required to be present when women sing.
MK Uri Orbach (Habayit Hayehudi) quipped that it would save everyone a lot of trouble if some people would plug their mouths.
MK Rachel Adatto (Kadima) said that Orthodox soldiers should be exempt from hearing women sing only if secular soldiers could opt out of hearing lectures by religious figures.
The Chief of the General Staff’s Women’s Affairs advisor, Brig.- Gen. Gila Kalifi, explained that yeshiva students in the IDF train together and serve in homogeneous units, but come into contact with secular soldiers throughout their service, which causes friction at times.
Kalifi added that the IDF seeks to respect the yeshiva students’ needs, and encourages them to enlist.
Also on Wednesday, MK Nachman Shai (Kadima) proposed a bill making the exclusion of women a criminal offense that would carry a sentence of some years in prison.
The bill defines the exclusion of women as “revelations of hatred, oppression, humiliation, debasement, hostility or violence, or causing altercations directed towards women only because they are women.” Anyone who “publicizes, incites, preaches or encourages” such discrimination against women would face three years in prison should the bill pass.
Shai stated that now is the time to take action against the widespread discrimination, adding that society cannot ignore the continuing harm to women, their selfimage and their freedoms.
He added that he hopes the legislation will deter those who humiliate and disrespect women.
The Knesset’s weekly newsletter on the Torah portion also focused on women’s rights, with Deputy Finance Minister Yitzhak Cohen stating that Jewish tradition respects women.
“Even those who believe that they are right cannot violently force their faith on their surroundings,” Cohen wrote. “Even if some people think that a woman passing on the street or sitting on the front of the bus opposes their faith, they cannot expect the public to bow its head to this belief.”
The Shas MK wrote that Hanukka is a holiday that glorifies women, who are supposed to be treated especially well during its eight days.
He brought the example of Judith, daughter of the High Priest Yohanan, who in the time of the Hanukka story killed a Greek general.
Because of Judith, Cohen explained, there is a halacha (Jewish law) that women should rest while Hanukka candles are burning, to demonstrate their participation in the holiday’s miracles.