The Israel Air Force has two commanders: One is Maj. Gen. Ido Nechushtan, and the other – who has a lower rank than he does but in practical terms is senior, thanks to his direct channel with the Almighty – is Lt. Col. Moshe Ravad. The chaplain has made a name for himself in his circles as the chief rabbi of the air force who walked out of his second position – that of head of a special program for ultra-Orthodox soldiers – and slammed the door so hard that the mezuzah almost fell off. That’s because Ravad supports the Haredi soldiers’ opposition to being in the presence of women.
This has caused great embarrassment to the entire Israel Defense Forces and in particular to the air force, which prides itself on the fact that five women have just completed the pilots’ training course. Military chaplains, who supply religious services to believers, have been increasingly interfering in the army’s functioning and making the lives of secular soldiers unbearable.
On the memorial day for assassinated prime minister Yitzhak Rabin, the battalion rabbi at an infantry training base torpedoed the plan by a female education officer to add a song by two women soldiers to the program. A moment before the young women were supposed to go on stage, the rabbi turned to the master sergeant who then went to the deputy battalion commander, who was conducting the ceremony in place of the battalion commander. The officer was alarmed and ordered the women soldiers not to sing, out of fear of a scandal. Afterwards, when the commander returned to the base, he apologized to the women soldiers and their commander, put the rabbi on trial for overstepping his authority and fined him. But the damage had been done and everyone saw and they are afraid.
The IDF has been claiming for years that the army is not a place where one chooses one’s own program, where those who want to, take part, and those who don’t want to, don’t have to man army roadblocks in the territories, or evacuate settlements or participate in combat that might harm civilians. But lo and behold, it appears that there is an exception and one that is aimed at half the population of the State of Israel. A soldier that does not want to be exposed to women singing is permitted to leave and do his own thing, as long as it is not an official ceremony. If a secular soldier were to dare to boycott the missionary preaching of a rabbi or a brainwashing tour of a religious site, he would be punished. The excessive rights of the religious have not merely penetrated the army, they have gained control of it.
The commanders of divisions and brigades warn of the creeping subjugation that is characteristic of units where the commanders are afraid of clashing with the rabbis. And even the chief army chaplain, Brig. Gen. Rafi Peretz, who is supposedly the good rabbi in the Rabad story, actively tries to perpetuate the gender separation – there are no women soldiers in the military rabbinical choir. It was not the IDF that created this distortion. It is a practice borrowed from the political world which allows the religious parties – irrespective of their ethnic group, and whether they are composed of settlers or of Haredim – to grab hold of the throats of the decision-makers. The result, in both the civilian and military spheres, makes life in Israel unbearable for a growing number of people who are not prepared to accept a rampant theocracy.
In David Ben-Gurion’s archive there is a letter that was sent to him from Paris in 1935. It was written to “friends of Ben-Gurion,” by Zeev Jabotinsky. The core of the letter is Jabotinsky’s position that the establishment of the state is more important than molding its image. “There is a type of Zionist who does not care about the social color of the state. I am one of those. Were I to be convinced that there is no other way to the state but socialism, or even were it merely to make its creation arrive faster, in one generation, I am ready and willing,” he wrote.
And what is worse even than the socialists? “Moreover, a state of observant people in which I would be forced to eat gefilte fish from dawn to dawn, if there were no other way, [to this too] I would agree. And I shall leave a will to my children to make a revolution – but I shall write on the envelope ‘To be opened five years after the inauguration of the Hebrew state.’ “
Not only five years have passed since the establishment of the state but almost 65. Observant Jews have gained control of it and they operate a puppet prime minister from Jabotinsky’s movement, but the envelope has not yet been opened. The minority is not waiting for the demographic change that will turn it into the majority. It is already making life bitter for the majority and setting conditions of how to behave in the very army which safeguards its existence.
We don’t need any favors. They don’t have to enlist. They can take their program for Haredim with them together with their military chaplains, and make it possible for a decent and egalitarian state to exist here.