In first, IDF taps member of Ethiopian community for colonel

Three female officers also slated for promotion; Druze Israeli set to preside over army court for the first time

Lt. Col. Dr. Avraham Yitzhak, poised to take over as medical officer of the Southern Command and become the IDF's first colonel to come from the Ethiopian community. (IDF Spokesperson's Unit)

IDF Chief of Staff Gadi Eisenkot nominated Lt. Col. Dr. Avraham Yitzhak to take over as chief medical officer of the army’s Southern Command on Monday, putting him on the path to becoming the first Israeli of Ethiopian heritage to hold the rank of colonel in the Israel Defense Forces.

Yitzchak, who was born in Ethiopia and moved to Israel in 1994, is one of 28 new nominations the army announced Monday. They are all subject to final approval by the defense minister.

Assuming his promotion goes as planned, this will be Yitzhak’s second “first” in the army, as he was also the first IDF doctor of Ethiopian heritage.

Shoshi Hadana, the chef at Havash, Israel’s first kosher Ethiopian restaurant, and the sister of Emanuel Hadana, the first lawyer of Ethiopian descent in Israel, said the announcement brought “great pride” to her community.

“It lifts our head,” she told The Times of Israel on Monday night, though Hadana lamented that the first colonel of Ethiopian heritage should have been named long ago.

“Think how long we’ve been here,” she said, citing the wave of Ethiopian immigration in the 1960s and 1970s.

Yitzchak moved to Israel from Ethiopia at the age of 19, after he had already started medical school in Addis Ababa, according to a 2010 profile by the Israel Hayom newspaper.

Once in Israel, he applied to Israeli universities and opted to study in Ben Gurion University’s medical program. Upon graduating, he began his IDF service as an army surgeon, first in the Paratroopers Brigade and then in the elite Maglan unit, which operates deep behind enemy lines.

Soldiers evacuating a wounded comrade during the Second Lebanon War, on July 24, 2006 (photo credit: Haim Azoulay/ Flash 90)

During the Second Lebanon War, Yitzhak served in the Nahal Brigade. On the last day of the fighting, he was wounded by shrapnel and forced to return to Israel for treatment.

He served as a surgeon in three Gaza operations — 2008-2009’s Operation Cast Lead, 2012’s Operation Pillar of Defense and 2014’s Operation Protective Edge — before taking over as head of the Medical Corps’ operational medicine department.

In addition to Yitzhak’s nomination, six women were also tapped for colonel-level positions on Monday. Three of them will receive promotions for their proposed positions, while the rest are already colonels.

Lt. Col. Liron Donal will rise in rank to colonel and take over as commander of the Home Front Command’s Dan District, which includes Tel Aviv and the surrounding suburbs. She will be the first woman to lead a Home Front Command district.

Lt. Col. Olga Polyakov will also be promoted to colonel and will become chief medical officer for the Home Front Command. Col. Orli Stern will lead the Logistics Directorate’s building and engineering department. Another woman, identified only as Col. M. for security reasons, will run Military Intelligence’s human resources department.

The other two female officers — Col. Noa Zumar and Lt. Col. Tali Freed — will take positions in the army’s legal system, as head of the Central Command and Air Force Court and head of the Southern Command and Ground Forces Court, respectively.

Lt. Col. Carmel Wahabi, a Druze Israeli, will also preside in the army’s judiciary, as head of the army’s Special Court and Court of the General Staff and Home Front Command. Wahabi, who has served in the IDF’s court in Jaffa, will be the first Druze Israeli to lead an IDF court.

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