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People of the boot

Papers' focus on a minor military reform shows how much of a people's army the IDF is, while Shas's focus on homophobia show what it takes to get kicked out

Israeli soldiers take a shower at a deployment area near the border with the Gaza Strip on August 2, 2014. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)
Israeli soldiers take a shower at a deployment area near the border with the Gaza Strip on August 2, 2014. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

A day after the news was dominated by a court decision over who cannot be exempted from the country’s mandatory military draft (the ultra-Orthodox), the populist corners of Israel’s Hebrew print press show just how ingrained military service is to society.

In most places, internal army decisions regarding the shifting of some roles, a new lexicon and more benefits would be a minor story, if a story at all. But in Israel, where army service is an integral part of most non-Haredi Jewish Israelis’ identities and lives, it is front page news.

“Spearhead combat is the best, bro,” reads a headline in tabloid Israel Hayom, playing off a popular macho saying, using the army’s new designation for top combat soldiers, as part of an administrative shuffle that will rank soldiers, and the benefits they receive, based on the toughness of their job.

While Israel Hayom’s jingoistic focus is on the troops at the top of the food chain — including by calling them “more combat than combat,” whatever that means –Yedioth Ahronoth, which leads off with the story, looks at the changes to the whole structure of the army, including a two-page spread complete with large pictures and graphics explaining the shifts.

“Who is a combat troop? This question has engaged the army for several years, and it’s now reached an answer,” the paper writes. “A dramatic move by IDF chief Gadi Eisenkot newly defined roles within the army structure: From the top of the elite combat units until the base of military pyramid. The newly defined roles will directly impact the various benefits combat troops get,” the paper reports, adding that the moves are intended to bolster combat numbers and morale.

Haaretz’s headline focuses on the fact that soldiers in these elite units will now have to double their time served, from four years to eight, but will get to pursue a degree while they are at it. The extra time will reduce waste and is in line with what is done in other Western armies, the paper says.

“The shift to a relatively long career service will enable the units to improve their professional standard and put the combatant teams, which will act together for a long period of time, to better use,” the paper reports.

While soldiers are seeing their time doubled, criminals may see their time in the clink cut in half, according to the paper’s lead story. The broadsheet reports that the move being pushed by Public Security Minister Gilad Erdan is meant to address overcrowding in the system, and will not apply to security prisoners.

Meanwhile, the ultra-Orthodox find themselves under fire in the papers for a second day in a row, this time not because of opposition to the mandatory military draft, but rather for sacking Shas lawmaker Yigal Guetta, as punishment for him attending his gay nephew’s wedding two years ago.

In Yedioth, columnist Chen Artzi Srour pillories the ultra-Orthodox party led by ex-convict Aryeh Deri for hypocritically claiming to represent God’s will.

“Yigal Guetta, you’re so naive. Why couldn’t you just take some envelopes, get questioned a few times by anti-fraud police or maybe arrange to serve some time at Maasiyahu prison,” she writes. “How did you dare to be caught doing such a terrible act as loving another? How did you fail so hard, going to celebrate at the wedding of your nephew who chose to make his life with another man. You couldn’t just break a minor rule like ‘thou shalt not steal,’ or ‘thou shalt not take bribes?’ You had to commit the worst sin of all, loving thy neighbor, right before Rosh Hashanah? In any case, Shas has clear standards. Stealing and bribes can be forgiven, but the legislature cannot countenance a sensitive, honest man like Guetta. Everything has its limits.”

In Haaretz, Yossi Verter is less sarcastically caustic, but no less damning of the party, writing that the affair is a sign of its demise and that of Deri, and not because of intolerance.

“It’s not clear whether the Guetta affair will help or hurt Shas. But it highlights the weakness of the party’s leader. No MK is closer to or more loyal to Dery than Guetta. Deri brought him into politics. But Deri was forced to part with this man he loves due to pressure from the ultra-Orthodox public and several benighted extremist rabbis, including Shalom Cohen, the head of the party’s Council of Torah Sages. Had this incident occurred in Ovadia Yosef’s day, Deri would almost certainly have managed to wangle a different decision,” he writes. “Deri didn’t want his friend to go, but he’s no longer the old Deri.”

On Wednesday, Israel Hayom was the only of the three major papers to back the ultra-Orthodox in the fight against the draft and the High Court, but on Thursday, op-ed columnist takes Guetta’s side over the rabbis who forced his ouster from the party, noting that the lawmaker (who was not even in the Knesset at the time of the wedding) refused to officiate and only attended as a form of compromise.

Shas MK Yigal Guetta is seen during a committee meeting at the Knesset on June 16, 2016. (Miriam Alster/Flash90)

“In Israeli society — and not just it — homosexuals are the other and the ‘transparent,’” he writes, using the term Deri used in campaigning in 2015 to show the party was fighting for the rights of the forgotten, see-through populace. “So Guetta’s decision to go to the wedding, but not to officiate — it was a complicated solution allowing him to mix the ultra-Orthodox and social-humanist identities of the party. Shas rabbis kicked him out and thus clarified that Shas prefers its Haredi identity over its social-humanist one.”

The paper is less nuanced in its lead story, though, which claims to expose ties between former prime minister Ehud Barak and Iran, via a Swiss bank. While the headline makes Barak seem like a villain in bed with Israel’s arch enemy, the story is likely paid up as part of a campaign to discredit the former army chief, who has become a loud critic of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, with the fine reporting only that Barak advised for the bank while it was taking part in a forum designed to look at boosting trade between Europe and Iran. Despite a smoking gun document showing Barak is indeed on the Julius Baer advisory board, he denies to the paper any knowledge or link to the Iran confab, and the paper hints it may not be as sinister as it seems.

“It’s worth noting that the Iran-Europe forum brought together dozens of countries, in Europe and internationally, interested in the economic potential of the Iranian market,” the paper writes. “On the list of companies are many well-known to Israel, like Airbus, H&M, Mitsubishi and more.”

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