Saturday, October 29, 2011

The IDF: Israel's Army, or God's?

From the pages of Haaretz, several reports on the growing influence of Ultra-Orthodox Jewish beliefs and regulations within the Israeli military.  Not exactly new, but now being exhibited more and more brazenly - as, for example, when female cadets were compelled to stand apart from their male counterparts:

The hundreds of women soldiers who angrily left Simhat Torah celebrations in the south after they were made to crowd into a small area away from male celebrants are the latest victims of a worrisome trend toward ultra-Orthodoxy in the Israel Defense Forces. There had already been incidents where male soldiers refused to serve under female instructors and officers, and women have been segregated at a training school's swimming pool. Another time, officer candidates left a ceremony because women were singing.

 During the IDF's main Sukkot holiday event, organized under the banner "we build the people's army in a spirit of unity," women were segregated in an offensive way, as though this were a remote ultra-Orthodox social hall and not an official army event held with civilian participation in the area of the Eshkol Regional Council. This was incredibly insulting. Many of the participants were not religious, and apart from those who enforced the wrongheaded segregation policy, the religious celebrants were also taken aback.

 Apparently a few religious extremists were not satisfied that the women were dancing separately and took the initiative to move them to a separate area. Yet senior officers in the Gaza division, including Brig. Gen. Yossi Bachar and IDF Chief Rabbi Rafi Peretz, stood idly by and did not intervene on the women soldiers' behalf. How can it be that a few extremists who seek to turn Jewish law into an instrument of crude segregation can lead two top IDF officers by the nose? Or do these officers disavow responsibility when it comes to actions offensive to women soldiers?

 Yossi Sarid chips in, noting that Ultra-Orthodox segregation of the sexes has been rampant in Jerusalem, and has even begun to pop up in New York City:

The trend toward ultra-Orthodox extremism that has been gripping religious soldiers takes on a particularly fanatic cast when it applies to women. In recent years the IDF has created unprecedented opportunities for female soldiers, and women soldiers are now promoted in elite units and combat roles based on their abilities. But aggressive religious isolationism belies these new realities and undermines the status of women soldiers who serve in all roles in the IDF.

The distance between the Israel Defense Forces and Mea She'arim is getting shorter. Although that ultra-Orthodox neighborhood in Jerusalem doesn't have any draftees, its spirit hovers over the ranks. In both places there is a separation between women and men, between masculine and feminine areas, while the High Court of Justice says this is forbidden. How very nice of it to do so.

And why shouldn't they expand the boundaries of separation if the gender-segregated buses continue to operate - young men in front and virgins in back - and the government subsidizes this gender-based apartheid. In New York too there was a report this week about a segregated bus line, and the mayor immediately declared: "Private people: You can have a private bus. Go rent a bus and do what you want on it."

It's clear that New York will mend its ways before Jerusalem, because the shtreimel-wearing shebab bow their heads before the authorities, and only here will they raise their heads. For from Zion shall exclusion come forth, for in Jerusalem ethnic and gender-based purification is taking place, women are disappearing from the public space, erased from ads and billboards. And the mayor fires his deputy for daring to turn to the courts to avenge the honor of her sisters.

"Don't judge someone until you've stood in his shoes," and we are trying to reach it, if not the place itself, then nearby. It's very hard to be a Jew who both guards his homeland and strictly observes the commandments; it's hard to be a brave soldier when there are so many Jewish Delilahs around.

It's hard to see 6-year-old child Liliths studying together with boys their own age; the holy community of Beit Shemesh is already working to change the situation. And it's hard to be a bagger standing behind the female cashiers at the supermarket, who stand or sit, and sometimes bend over, may God preserve them, and us.

Even religious Zionism has fallen victim to ultra-Orthodox fanaticism. More educational institutions are separating the sexes, and religious Zionism's youth movement is also trying to save young souls. It would be preferable for Bnei Akiva's girls to wrap themselves in black rags like the Taliban.

The modesty brigades go outside the walls, and now they're attacking the kibbutzim. I couldn't believe a friend who told me about Kibbutz Ashdot Ya'akov (Ihud ), which recently held a Simhat Torah celebration in strictly Orthodox style - men in one place, women in another. Who will remove the dust from the eyes of the pioneer women who chiseled stones on the Tzemah-Tiberias road, who with the sweat of their brows cultivated the vegetable garden at the Kinneret farm? Had there not already been so many eulogies for the kibbutz movement, another one would have been added here.

Never has the status of women in Israel been so high, and never has it been so low. A woman is the president of the Supreme Court, while women head the protest movement and two political parties, with a third on the way. The day will come when they are asked to sit in the balcony of the Knesset, like in the synagogue. Male MKs won't protest their marginalization too loudly for fear that pious rabbis will attack them in their sermons.


And bear in mind the continuing racist, religion-based attacks by Jewish settlers on Arab communities in the West Bank, as well as the rulings of one rabbiwho proclaimed that even Gentile babies could be killed in defense of Jews.

This is not the Israel of the 1950s and 1960s, which was established and governed by a predominantly liberal-secular-socialist Ashkenazi (European) political class.  These were, of course, the same men and women who authored the expulsion of hundreds of thousands of Arabs from their towns and villages, as well as the "Iron Wall" mentality (as so carefully and fully documented by Avi Shlaim). Nonetheless, they would have been shocked (as are most American Jews) by the racist, hyper-puritanical tone that's been emerging in Israeli society and the IDF over the last 20 years.

Not shocked, unfortunately, are so many thousands of Christian Zionists who pack the pews of so many thousands of American Protestant congregations - the ones who hope to see a war involving Israel that will usher in Armageddon and the Second Return of Jesus, that man of peace and love.

Well, if this report from the Washington Times is accurate, they may get it - the war, that is.  Is it possible that Mr. Netanyahu approved the prisoner exchange for Gilad Schalit in order to clear the decks for an Israeli military strike on Iran?  Indeed, Amir Oren wrote (in Haaretz, as paraphrased by the WT):

Although the prime minister failed to make any enduring mark on history during his previous term or so far during his present term, Mr. Netanyahu may see Iran as an opportunity to achieve his Churchillian moment, Mr. Oren wrote. "The day is not far off, Netanyahu believes, when Churchill will emerge from him."

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