Michael Boyden

Respecting Women in the IDF

It was already reported some days ago that the warnings of female soldiers operating the look-out posts along the borders with the Gaza Strip, who expressed their concerns to their superiors about increased Hamas military activity, were ignored.

One of them was apparently told chauvinistically by an officer not to draw conclusions about what she had witnessed, because “You’re the eyes but we’re the brains.” There were even threats of disciplinary against her if she continued.

Parents of those brave soldiers who operated the look-outs, some of whom were killed or kidnapped by Hamas terrorists, are now collecting information to be presented to the National Commission of Inquiry when it is established following the war.

It has now been reported by Channel 12 that two female officers expressed their concerns that Hamas was, in their view, preparing to break through into Israel and attack kibbutzim and villages, but their fears were dismissed as unwarranted and apparently did not reach the Chief-of-Staff.

In the old days the relationship between an aircraft captain and his 1st officer was based on authority. The captain was always right. Following a number of accidents, aviation authorities and airlines adopted the concept of cockpit resource management (CRM). While retaining a command hierarchy, the concept is intended to foster a less-authoritarian cockpit culture in which co-pilots are encouraged to question captains if they observe them making mistakes.

While the chain of command is an essential feature in the military, perhaps there is also room in the IDF for low-ranking soldiers, who have their feet on the ground, to share their concerns with senior officers without fear of disciplinary action.

Perhaps the fact that the soldiers who expressed their concerns were female also affected the manner in which they were addressed in a predominantly male culture.

The story is told of a passenger who boarded a plane and expressed his concern and surprise that one of the pilots was a woman. The purser responded: “You don’t need a penis to fly an aeroplane.”

While the IDF now has a number of female officers holding senior positions, perhaps there is still some way to go before women are given the respect and the attention that they deserve.

About the Author
Made aliyah from the UK in 1985, am a former president of the Israel Council of Reform Rabbis and am currently rabbi of Kehilat Yonatan in Hod Hasharon, Israel.