The IDF has been and is currently engaged in an internal cultural war between the secularists and the religious Zionists within the higher ranks.
More precisely, the secularist high command, save for one exception, has not been letting generals wearing a kippa sit at the table of the current IDF’s General Staff nor in its enlarged forum. And towards this end, it has been and continues to pass over the promotion of religious Zionist officers otherwise eligible for promotion to the divisional level of command and higher.
This state of affairs was, once again, brought to public attention when Ofer Winter, a religious Zionist officer holding the rank of Brigade General, in an apparent breach of the Merit Principle, was denied a well- deserved promotion to a position of Division General, despite his exceptionally outstanding military record both in war and in regular service.
Clearly, if there is one Israeli institution that must strictly operate on this principle is the IDF. Every failure to operate on this principle amounts to a breach of the supreme or sacred duty owed by IDF General staff to Israel and to its peoples, who have been living with an un-interrupted a state of war throughout the 70 years of her existence.
And it is an absolute imperative for a nation like Israel that has been forced to live by the sword by her enemies, to insure that those who hold the swords of the nation occupy the right ranks and positions at the right times,. if she does not want to die by the sword.
The facts of the case of General Winter provide a perfect illustration of a breach of this moral and military imperative.
More specifically, General Winter’s original sin in his military service that appears to stand in his way to a promotion is the fact that during the 2014 Gaza war-Operation Protective Edge, he sent his subordinate officers a religious motivational message.
Personally, I do not see how such a message could or would offend even the most secular officer under his command. Hence I do not quite understand how such a message or such messages would cause any problems to the effectiveness of the IDF on the battlefield.
Quite to the contrary, being, what some of my religious Jewish friends mockingly call me, “a Jewish secular humanist”, I would take the message as an order to go and ,as we say in Canada, ”kick ass” and I would gladly do it.
On the other hand, if the apprehension is that, when push comes to shove, religious Zionist officers may take unnecessary and costly risks by engaging in a kind of action inspired or dictated by their religious beliefs rather than that dictated by military training, surely blocking of advancement is not going to solve the problem.
Instead, the solution would start by testing empirically the reasonableness of the apprehension. In the event, there is some evidence that may justify such an apprehension, surely the best way to address this problem is by way of further military training (or would it be indoctrination?) that focuses on this issue.
The timing of the refusal to promote General Winter also appears to be problematic This According to at least two high ranking generals(res) who cared to address the issue in the public forum, the IDF is short of officers at the divisional level with the requisite types of experiences in fighting wars at the brigade level; precisely the forte of the good general.
The timing of the refusal also appear to be problematic as the IDF in addition to its tough regular duties, currently has on its plate, among others, two related contentious and difficult problems with which it is grappling, namely;
- a) The problems of securing the military service of the right number of Hasidim of age; and
- b) Even more critically, the problem of integrating women ,including religious Zionist women, into a diversity of IDF positions including combat, and with respect to which the IDF is forcefully opposed by the religious Zionist rabbinic leadership (cf.Mati Wagner of World Israel News on June 12 inst.)
Wagner also points out that “According to Army Radio report based on IDF data, a full 40% of the officers among cadet school graduates are overwhelmingly of the religious Zionist persuasion- and half of all IDF commanders of ground forces at the brigade level are religious men.”
With this tidal wave of religious Zionist officers on the way up, the Chief and members of the General Staff better get on reconciling themselves to these facts and graciously change course before being forced to change course for lack of a viable alternative, and in the process spare themselves and the IDF the anger and bitterness caused by the current policy.