Stop us­ing dou­ble stan­dards against fe­male IDF sol­diers

The Jerusalem Post - - OBSERVATIONS - • By CHAIM LAN­DAU

Ac­cord­ing to the stan­dards de­manded by the ul­tra-Or­tho­dox Cho­tam or­ga­ni­za­tion, the Liba Cen­ter and Brother in Arms, which mount pub­lic cam­paigns against women serv­ing as IDF com­bat sol­diers, I too should have been dis­qual­i­fied from com­bat ser­vice.

As a 19-year-old im­mi­grant from the United States, I en­listed into the IDF, de­ter­mined to per­form my duty as a com­bat sol­dier. I re­quested to serve in the Ar­mored Corps and trained as a tank driver. I served with hes­der yeshiva stu­dents, who com­bined their mil­i­tary ser­vice with sev­eral years of yeshiva study.

Dur­ing ba­sic train­ing I had to com­plete an ob­sta­cle course, which among other ele­ments in­cluded jump­ing over a high wall. I was able to do so without any gear, but once loaded with a com­bat vest, am­mu­ni­tion and my ri­fle, the wall proved in­sur­mount­able for me.

Yet I and the oth­ers in my unit of yeshiva stu­dents who did not suc­ceed in jump­ing over the wall still passed ba­sic train­ing and went on to serve as com­bat sol­diers. The IDF has long known that jump­ing over a wall is only one in­di­ca­tion, among many, of com­bat fit­ness, and ac­cord­ingly makes a de­ci­sion on pass­ing a sol­dier based on an over­all, wide-rang­ing as­sess­ment of the sol­diers’ abil­i­ties and mo­ti­va­tion.

For­tu­nately for me there were no or­ga­ni­za­tions pass­ing out pam­phlets at traf­fic in­ter­sec­tions claim­ing that my in­abil­ity to jump over the wall made me in­el­i­gi­ble for the com­bat ser­vice I de­sired. My male­ness in­su­lated me from the kind of gen­der-based scru­tiny pro­moted by th­ese ul­tra-Or­tho­dox or­ga­ni­za­tions.

A sub­stan­tial por­tion of my train­ing was de­liv­ered by fe­male IDF in­struc­tors, whose knowl­edge of tanks and their in­ner work­ings far sur­passed mine. What th­ese in­struc­tors had in com­mon with the hes­der yeshiva stu­dents in my unit was an un­par­al­leled level of mo­ti­va­tion, com­mit­ment and pas­sion.

Many of the yeshiva stu­dents in my unit were not ex­actly the ath­letic type, to say the least, but that never pre­vented them from ex­celling as sol­diers. The same traits that enabled the yeshiva stu­dents to be great sol­diers also ap­ply to women.

I used to won­der why our fe­male tank in­struc­tors were never given the chance to use their skills in the field. In re­cent years the IDF in­deed de­cided that they and other fe­male sol­diers would make wor­thy com­bat sol­diers, sim­i­lar to the yeshiva stu­dents who serve with me, and thus has made more com­bat po­si­tions open to women, in­clud­ing in the Ar­mored Corps.

It is worth not­ing that while some re­tired IDF gen­er­als have come out against cur­rent IDF pol­icy of open­ing up the com­bat ranks to women, the cur­rent bat­tle against fe­male com­bat ser­vice is be­ing led by those in the Zion­ist-Haredi com­mu­nity.

When ex­am­in­ing the be­liefs of many of the rab­bis be­hind th­ese cam­paigns, such as Rabbi Zvi Tau of the Liba Cen­ter, it be­comes clear that their ar­gu­ments against al­legedly in­fe­rior fe­male com­bat per­for­mance are sim­ply a cover for those whose un­der­ly­ing in­ter­ests are their re­li­gious be­lief of the need to keep the army all male and in some cases keep women out of the pub­lic sphere al­to­gether.

The IDF has to tread care­fully in al­low­ing the women in its ranks to re­al­ize their po­ten­tial, while also keep­ing its fight­ers of both gen­ders healthy and whole, and of course suc­ceed­ing in com­bat and in pro­tect­ing the state. An hon­est and trans­par­ent pub­lic con­ver­sa­tion on how to do so is es­sen­tial, es­pe­cially in a coun­try with manda­tory con­scrip­tion, but the con­ver­sa­tion has to start from a place of re­spect for women, their au­ton­omy, and their right­ful place in the pub­lic sphere.

Ex­trem­ist re­li­gious be­liefs that women have no place out­side of the home bear no rel­e­vance to this con­ver­sa­tion. The cyn­i­cal, re­li­giously in­spired cam­paigns al­leg­ing in­fe­rior fe­male com­bat per­for­mance lack ba­sis, em­ploy dou­ble stan­dards, and should be dis­cred­ited by all fair-minded Is­raelis.

The writer lives in Jerusalem and is se­nior de­vel­op­ment as­so­ciate for Shatil, the ac­tion arm of the New Is­rael Fund.

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