Israeli generals fight Orthodox-inspired gender segregation in the ranks

November 14, 2011

(Israeli soldiers attend a ceremony in the Hall of Remembrance at Yad Vashem Holocaust Memorial in Jerusalem April 21, 2009. REUTERS/Ammar Awad)

Israel’s military must not give in to Jewish religious demands to prevent the mixing of men and women in the ranks, a group of reservist generals told the country’s defence minister on Monday. The 19 generals, among them former army, air force and navy commanders, listed times when they said women had been sidelined or segregated during military events because of pressure from male Orthodox soldiers.

“These include … the separation of women soldiers from their units during ceremonies as a result of religious considerations, demands to prevent women from singing at such events and the demand that women be fenced in a closed, isolated area when (holiday) dances were held,” they said.

The letter called on Defence Minister Ehud Barak and Chief of Staff Lieutenant-General Benny Gantz “to issue immediate, detailed directives to (Israeli military) units to refrain from imposing religious norms on male and female soldiers.”

The appeal, printed in the Haaretz newspaper, opened a new front in an emotional public battle over what the military has acknowledged is a growing influence of religion in its ranks. It comes against a backdrop of a broader debate on the increasing prominence of religion in Israel.

“We believe that it is the (Israeli military’s) obligation to protect the rights of all people who serve in its ranks, and that joint service by women and men … is a cornerstone of its character as the people’s army,” the generals wrote.

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