IDF Chief of Staff Aviv Kohavi on Wednesday denounced the barring of a female officer from leading a swearing-in ceremony at the Western Wall last week, calling it a “violation of our values.”
In a letter to soldiers, Kohavi said last week’s incident “completely contradicts the spirit of the IDF” and “violates values that the army is based on.”
Kohavi noted equality was central to the core values of the Israel Defense Forces, saying distinctions between men and women “can only be made on a professional and matter-of-fact basis.”
“Women serve in the army, are essential to the army and their service is critical to the IDF,” he said, adding that “they are commanders, they are instructors, they are researchers, they are combat soldiers and they perform many different tasks.”
He stressed that military matters should not be decided by external parties. “It is forbidden for IDF commanders to be influenced by pressure groups or parties outside the chain of command,” he said.
The chief of staff also said he understood both the professional and moral “dilemmas” commanders face, but reminded them that it was their duty to create a “safe, fair and equal” environment for all soldiers.
After the last-minute decision to remove the officer from the leading the cermony, the IDF said the reversal followed a request from the Western Wall Heritage Foundation. The government body is responsible for managing the holy site and does so in accordance with Orthodox customs, such as maintaining prayer areas separated by gender.
“The female IDF educational officer who planned to lead the ceremony was asked not to do so by the civilian foundation,” the IDF said. “The commanders on site accepted the request, which was an error in judgment of those present [and] who did not consult with senior commanders.”
However, Hebrew media reports said last week the Western Wall Heritage Foundation explicitly demanded the female officer not lead the ceremony.
The IDF said the incident would be investigated and stressed that it does not prohibit women from leading official ceremonies.
In its response, the Western Wall Heritage Foundation said military ceremonies at the site are held in accordance with IDF guidelines and chalked up the incident to a “local misunderstanding.”
Women serve in a variety of roles in the IDF, in many cases alongside their male counterparts. There are also fully integrated mixed-gender combat units such as the Caracal and Bardelas battalions, which are tasked with protecting Israel’s border with Egypt and Jordan, respectively. In the Air Force, women and men serve together in the air defense units, including the Iron Dome — technically considered a combat unit.
According to the military, Kohavi approved last Friday the recommendation of the Israeli Air Force commander, Maj. Gen Tomer Bar, on the integration of women in combat roles into the elite helicopter-borne search and rescue unit Unit 669.