Amos Harel
Haaretz (Blog)
November 14, 2011 - 1:00am

Amid renewed fighting on the Gaza border and an influx of reports on a possible Israeli attack on Iran’s nuclear sites, Israel Defense Forces chief Benny Gantz’s term is being dominated by an entirely different issue: the cultural war brewing within the army.

Specifically, the impact of rabbis and religious officers on the day-to-day life of the military, beyond the basic rights promised to them by IDF regulations.

These struggles have been teeming beneath the surface for several years. The promotion of religious soldiers in combat units to the rank of officer or other intermediate levels has created a gradual cultural shift in the army. The change has caused clashes for two reasons: the national religious community’s general tendency to hold dear to traditional values, as well as growing activity among the military’s rabbinate.

Until now, the only voice heard has been that of the civilian rabbinate. They were the ones to articulate the distress of their students, whose adherence to their faith occasionally provoked clashes with the IDF. Lately, since the rabbis began fearing that Gantz may draw “red lines” which will forbid changing the status quo as it pertains to the wording of the “Yizkor” (which adopted a particular text unacceptable to many rabbis), or the issue of women singing in public, the national religious has become more openly critical of IDF policy.

Now a voice is also being heard from the other side. A group of 19 major-general reservists signed a letter calling on the defense minister and the IDF chief to prevent any damage to women serving in high-ranking military positions. The major-generals warned against allowing the coercive norms “suitable for a small portion of the religious community” to take effect over the entirety of the military, claiming that they do not fall in line with the spirit of the IDF.

The move is the first of its kind, and more are expected in its aftermath. In the future, the Council for Peace and Security, a body which until today, focused on public support for the peace process, will support such a move. The move will constitute the first round of significant assistance for lone permanent officers - those who dared to stand against the effective steamroller of the military rabbis.

A long list of respected retired generals has signed onto the letter, including two former IAF commanders, three former navy commanders, and the former head of human resources in the General Staff. But for some of the undersigned there is one more thing in common: more than a third of them are over the age of 80. The IDF of today is significantly different from the one in which they served as battalion or squadron officers, or as members of the General Staff Forum. When they call on Barak and Gantz to prevent a blow to female soldiers and warn of a potential decrease in motivation to serve, they are speaking in the name of the “generation of the grandchildren”.

The formulators of the letter turned to younger major-general reservists. Only some from the younger generation responded. Few believe that this is the kind of sensitive issue that needs to be qualified by going directly to the chief of the Israel Defense Forces. Others, apparently, prefer not to butt heads with the defense ministry, to which they are still connected, either directly or indirectly. As the old army saying goes: a commander that desires life and a promotion will avoid getting involved in three areas: women, religion and money. It seems that most of the generals whether in active reserve service or on pension, remain loyal to this rule even today.


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