Defend IDF’s women

Not everyone is happy about the IDF’s gender-blind meritocratic approach.

A female air force pilot at the Hatzor base (photo credit: REUTERS)
A female air force pilot at the Hatzor base
(photo credit: REUTERS)
Given the chance, women have proven that they can contribute significantly to the success of our military forces. Women might lack the brute force of men, but they often have leadership or technological skills that depend on high intelligence and unique personality traits that are essential for the continued success of the IDF.
In the Israel Air Force alone a number of female officers have been appointed to key command positions in recent months. Just last week it was announced that a female pilot with the rank of major, whose name cannot be publicized due to security concerns, will be promoted to the rank of lieutenant colonel and will command an aviation squadron responsible for ground-based operations.
Another woman, a major, will be promoted to lieutenant- colonel and head the air force’s operational command and control unit. She will be the first female air traffic controller to reach this rank.
In November, the air force appointed its very first female deputy commander of a fighter jet squadron, which flies F-15 fighter jets out of the Tel Nof air base in central Israel.
Two other women were appointed to deputy commander positions in the IDF’s military drone squadrons.
It is only natural that the IDF, like any other institution that wants to maximize its chances for success, takes advantage of all available human resources and does not make the mistake of shunning 50% of the population due to anachronistic conceptions about “proper” gender roles.
But not everyone is happy about the IDF’s gender-blind meritocratic approach.
On Wednesday, during an interview on Army Radio, Chief Rabbi of Safed Shmuel Eliyahu called to fire IDF Chief-of-Staff Gadi Eisenkot.
“The army has adopted a crazy feminist agenda,” Eliyahu said. “I don’t know what’s gotten into Eisenkot. Cabinet ministers and the prime minister should tell Eisenkot, ‘You have to get packing and go home, you have done too much to lower the motivation to enlist, especially waging war on the religious soldiers.’ I call on the prime minister to tell Eisenkot to go home.”
Eliyahu’s comments followed a ruling by prominent National Religious spiritual leader Rabbi Shlomo Aviner that men should not enlist until they can guarantee they are not placed in a gender-mixed unit.
Chief Sephardi Rabbi of Israel Yitzhak Yosef publicly backed Eliyahu, telling him that Eliyahu’s father, the late chief rabbi Mordechai Eliyahu “is happy with you in heaven.”
In response, Defense Minister Avigdor Liberman announced that he would ban Yosef, Eliyahu and Aviner from taking part in IDF ceremonies. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has said that he is proud of the IDF for integrating women at the highest ranks.
Two conflicting trends are competing for prominence within the IDF and both are a blessing to it. On one hand, religious soldiers are disproportionately represented in command positions, particularly in combat units. The IDF is also investing thought and energy in attracting Haredi men to the IDF. National Religious soldiers tend to be highly motivated and view their military service as an extension of their Jewish identity and religious obligations.
On the other hand, women are demanding – and receiving – egalitarian treatment in the IDF. Women understand that as long as there is gender-based discrimination in the IDF, Israeli society will never be truly egalitarian. And under the leadership of Eisenkot, the gender revolution is underway. In 2017, the IDF reported a record-high 2,700 women joining combat units, a five-fold increase since 2012.
The IDF has an interest in ensuring that both of these positive trends continue. Notwithstanding the comments of Eliyahu, Yosef and Aviner, religious men continue to enlist in the IDF. And women, including religious women, continue to join the IDF, not as paper pushers or servers of soft drinks, but as commanders, tech-savvy officers and soldiers in combat units that can use women’s unique skills.
The IDF’s strength is that it is a people’s army that can draw from nearly the entirely population and hand-pick the most talented individuals in the nation. But the people’s army model also gives rise to interest groups like rabbis and their followers who attempt to interfere in the running of the IDF. Rabbis have no business meddling in the issues of security with which they have no expertise. Liberman and Netanyahu are right to back the IDF’s commanders and trust them to make the right decisions.