Minister said to rap IDF for focus on female troops, gay soldiers

‘Why is this good?’ asks Uri Ariel during cabinet meeting attended by IDF chief of staff, according to Channel 10

Agriculture Minister Uri Ariel attends a Jewish Home faction meeting at the Knesset, on January 15, 2018. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)
Agriculture Minister Uri Ariel attends a Jewish Home faction meeting at the Knesset, on January 15, 2018. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

A minister from the national-religious Jewish Home party reportedly criticized the IDF Spokesperson’s Unit during a cabinet meeting on Sunday, for spotlighting the equal treatment of women and homosexuals in the army.

“Why does the IDF spokesperson always push articles in the media about the integration of women, homosexuals, and transgender [people] in the IDF? Why is this good?” the Channel 10 report quoted Agriculture Minister Uri Ariel as saying during the meeting, which was attended by IDF Chief of Staff Gadi Eisenkot.

“It exists, but why put it at the center of the IDF?” he continued.

According to the TV report, Ariel then addressed Eisenkot directly, saying: “Check the number of articles on these things and see if I’m right or not, and if this suits you.”

Illustrative: Male and female combat soldiers of the Caracal Battalion train to fight an Islamic State assault on southern Israel in late March 2017. (IDF Spokesperson’s Unit)

The report said a number of ministers came to Eisenkot’s defense, including Jewish Home leader and Education Minister Naftali Bennett, Science Minister Ofir Akunis (Likud) and Culture Minister Miri Regev (Likud).

Eisenkot vowed the army would not change its policy regarding service for women and homosexuals, according to the report.

The issue of female enlistment, especially into combat units, has become a sensitive one among Orthodox nationalist religious leaders in recent years, and has pitted Israel’s traditionally liberal military leadership against the spiritual leaders of a large number of religiously observant soldiers and officers.

On Wednesday, Rabbi Shmuel Eliyahu, chief rabbi of the city of Safed, claimed a “war” was being waged between the military and religious Zionism over female military service. He also said that the IDF was leading an “unhinged” agenda and accused Defense Minister Avigdor Liberman of behaving as though the army “belongs to his dad.”

IDF Chief of Staff Gadi Eisenkot speaks at a conference at the Interdisciplinary Center in Herzliya on January 2, 2017. (Flash90)

Eliyahu also set off tensions with the defense establishment recently, when he said Eisenkot should be dismissed because he allows female soldiers to serve in combat units.

Eliyahu’s position was supported by other top rabbis, including Sephardic Chief Rabbi Yitzhak Yosef and Rabbi Shlomo Aviner, leading Liberman to ban the three from all IDF events, “until they take back the serious comments they made against the IDF chief of staff and against the IDF.” The rabbis, he said, are state employees who “must represent the state.”

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has also rejected rabbis’ criticisms, saying he was “proud” of female integration and commended army chiefs for advancing equality.

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