Former Israeli general Yiftach Ron-Tal issued a formal apology Sunday for his claim that a move to integrate women into combat units is part of a left-wing scheme to “weaken” the Israel Defense Forces, following a wave of condemnation by Knesset members and public figures.
Ron-Tal was quoted Friday by the religious news site Kipa as saying he was concerned that the efforts to allow female soldiers to serve in the tank brigades were part of an attempt to “weaken the IDF.”
When asked on the right-wing Galey Israel radio station on Sunday to clarify who he thought was behind this effort, the former head of the IDF Ground Forces said he’d seen testimonies showing that “far-left” groups were responsible.
“I think there are groups with special interests behind this that are using this process, which is supposedly a democratic and important process to produce more fighters for the IDF, in order to weaken our army,” he told the station, acknowledging that he could not prove this.
“The people leading this, sorry for the phrasing, are freaks,” he added.
His comments were swiftly denounced by members of Knesset, including Kulanu MK Rachel Azaria and Zionist Union MK Merav Michaeli, who are both often at the forefront of gender issues.
In a phone conversation with The Times of Israel on Sunday, Azaria said she “didn’t even know” how to respond to Ron-Tal’s claim and said she advocates allowing more women to serve in combat units out of both Zionist and practical considerations.
Hours after he made his comments, Ron-Tal wrote in a Facebook post: “I apologize from the bottom of my heart if it was implied by the things I said that left-wing organizations are behind this process, with the intention of weakening the strength of the IDF. My position is certainly not that, and I am convinced from the bottom of my heart that these groups see and want the best for the IDF and the best for the security of the state.”
His post “tagged” both Azaria and Michaeli, along with prominent feminist journalist Anat Saragusti and Zionist Union MK Ayelet Nahmias-Verbin, who had reached out to Ron-Tal.
“I contacted [Ron-Tal] with the demand that he apologize immediately for what he said about left-wing organizations, specifically his comments about integrating women into the Armored [Corps] — an issue that I have advanced for the past year,” Nahmias-Verbin wrote on Facebook.
“Ron-Tal expressed his apology and his clarification. The things he said were grave, but when a man apologizes, I am always ready to listen,” she said.
The question of allowing female soldiers to serve in combat units came up afresh last week when a brigadier general revealed in a meeting of the Knesset’s powerful Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee that the army was revisiting the prospect of allowing women to serve as fighters in the Armored Corps.
‘The role of a woman is to be a mother, to bring children into the world’
That revelation renewed a decades old discussion about gender equality in the IDF. Former generals and military officials have since come out of the woodwork to voice their opinions on the subject.
Brig. Gen. (res.) Avigdor Kahalani, a famed commander of the IDF’s 7th Armored Brigade, told Galey Israel that tanks were not the right place for women.
“The role of a woman is to be a mother, to bring children into the world,” he said.
“After the traumas of war, she would be totally different,” Kahalani added.
Rabbi Yisrael Weiss, a former IDF chief rabbi, warned of the sexual impropriety that would ensue from mixed-gender tank crews.
If men and women were to serve in the same tank together, “a little ‘tankist’ would grow there nine months later,” he said.
However, Brig. Gen. (res.) Yigal Slovik, a former head of the IDF Armored Corps, found no issue with the prospect of women serving in tank brigades, having investigated the issue on behalf of the army.
“I went to the [US Marines Corps] with another officer to look into the subject and found that, compared to other Western armies, we are behind and can improve,” he said, in an interview with Yedioth Ahronoth newspaper.
“If a woman can fly a plane, she can also command a tank,” he added.