Gantz apologizes for joke about female soldiers

On tour of Golan Heights, defense minister and IDF chief of General Staff crack joke at expense of female soldiers serving on the border.

Barak and Gantz 311 (photo credit: Ariel Harmoni)
Barak and Gantz 311
(photo credit: Ariel Harmoni)
It might be one of the more controversial topics in the IDF today, but that did not stop Defense Minister Ehud Barak and Chief of Staff Lt.-Gen. Benny Gantz from cracking a joke on Tuesday about the service of female soldiers in the IDF. Gantz later apologized for the remarks.
Gantz and Barak were on the Golan Heights to visit an exercise of the Golani Brigade’s 51st Battalion.
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At one point, Barak turned to Gantz and asked, “What are these female soldiers doing here? Where are they from?” “They are here to sing. They sing during their break,” Gantz replied with a chuckle.
OC Golani Brigade Col. Ofek Buhris said, “It’s not a problem if they sing. It’s fine.”
Barak said, “I have Dana here with me from my media office. She’s from a moshav, she can sing and she is not in uniform.”
“As long as she’s not in uniform but wearing clothes it’s okay,” Buhris said.
Gantz then noticed that the media were recording the conversation. He immediately asked the reporters to erase the joke from their tape recorders and video cameras and not to pass it on to their news outlets.
“Even if this is the scoop of your life, you will not air this. It will remain in your recorder,” Gantz told the Army Radio reporter at the scene.
He then turned to Nir Dvori, Channel 2’s military reporter, and said kiddingly: “You too... Otherwise this will be your last story. That would be a pity. Don’t let this be your last story.”
The joke came as a debate is raging in the IDF over “Shirat Nashim” – Hebrew for women singing – and whether religious soldiers can be compelled to attend ceremonies that feature female singers.
IDF Spokesman Brig.-Gen. Yoav Mordechai released a statement in defense of Gantz and said the remarks were made in jest and should not be interpreted differently. “We regret the way the comments were interpreted and it is important to put them into the correct proportions.”
Gantz's bureau later issued its own apology. "The chief of General Staff would like to clarify that his remarks made during a visit to see an exercise in the North were made in jest and have been misinterpreted as is evidenced by his beliefs and actions to promote women in the IDF," a statement from Gantz's office read.
"The chief of General Staff apologizes to anyone who was offended by his remarks," the statement added.
Meretz faction chairman Ilan Gilon said later that “Barak and Gantz are setting the IDF back years.”
“Instead of fighting against the unstable situation of female soldiers, the chief of staff and the defense minister chose to make sexist jokes,” Gilon said.
“Gantz must wake up and realize he is the head of everyone’s army, including female soldiers.”
In September, four cadets at the Bahd 1 Officer Training School were dismissed after they walked out of a ceremony when a mixed band took to the stage, and then refused to return. Two of the four were recently allowed to return to the school.
Lahav Harkov and staff contributed to this report.