Women have always served in the Israeli armed forces and are an integral part of it, but in the past few years, they’ve played an increasingly important role in Israel’s defence. From training new recruits and flying aircraft to manning outposts and driving tanks, they form an indispensable component of Israel’s defence shield.
“Since the establishment of the state, women have served in the Israeli Defence Force (IDF) and made an enormous contribution to the security of Israel,” Defence Minister Avigdor Liberman said recently.
Liberman posted this comment after Rabbi Yigal Levinstein, the head of a state-sponsored pre-army academy/yeshiva, issued gratuitously insulting remarks about religious female soldiers. In response, Liberman declared, “Rabbi Levinstein’s verbal attack not only hurts women in Israel but also hurts the IDF, the IDF’s heritage and the basic values of the State of Israel.”
Claiming that military service robs religiously observant women of their Jewishness and makes them crazy, Levinstein said, “They recruit them to the army, where they enter as Jews, but there’re not Jews by the time they leave. Not in the genetic sense, but all of their values and priorities have been upset, and we must not allow it.”
He added, “What happens if there’s a female company commander? This is a question of madness, it belongs in an insane asylum. This is an Orthodox girl. Put aside those who are secular. They’re making our girls crazy.”
It comes as no surprise that Interior Minister Aryeh Deri, a member of the ultra-Orthodox Shas Party, has lined up in support of Levinstein. “I praise him for saying the truth and for not being afraid to say the truth,” said Deri, whose party opposes the conscription of religious men and women into the armed forces.
Deri’s dated views represent a minority of Israel’s population. Most Israelis would agree that Levinstein’s insults are sexist and misogynist, divorced from reality, and incompatible with the norms of a modern, progressive society. Which is why Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu sensibly distanced himself from Levinstein and why Culture Minister Miri Regev, a former brigadier-general, appropriately denounced him.
To his credit, Liberman appears to have adopted a tough and principled position. He has demanded Levinstein’s resignation and has threatened to withdraw Israel’s recognition and funding of the pre-army academy unless he steps down. Lieberman has also called on Levinstein to apologize to the families of soldiers who have been killed in the line of duty.
Levinstein has stubbornly stuck to his guns. He claims that the IDF’s “feminist approach” is “incompatible with Jewish law,” and that he will not “retract a single word of what I believe.” In a minor concession of no importance, he admits his style of delivery was “inappropriate.”
Levinstein’s retrogressive attitude and smarmy insubordination are worthy of censure and punishment. If he insists on being true to his twisted principles, he should do the honourable thing and resign. If he refuses to do so, Liberman should immediately dismiss Levinstein, who has previously branded homosexuals as “deviants.” There must be zero tolerance in the IDF, or in any other state institution, of employees who disparage and belittle women and denigrate gays.
Such reactionary attitudes are beyond the pale and intolerable in this day and age.
Levinstein is no role model and should be sacked. The IDF will be much better off without him.