Several religious male soldiers from the IDF Armored Corps refused to attend a commanders’ training course because, for the first time, female soldiers would also be attending, Army Radio reported Wednesday.
The Israeli army’s first female combat tank operators completed their training in December, as part of a pilot program to assess fuller gender integration in the Armored Corps. Three of them are to attend a course at the beginning of March to become tank commanders.
However, a group of religious combat soldiers from the 188th Brigade, who have been selected to attend a course for tank commanders taking place at the same time, notified the army that they will not attend because it offends their religious sensibilities.
The army stressed, though, that there would be no mixing of the genders during the parallel courses — the women’s training will be entirely separate from the men’s.
“The training is designed in a way that is suited to maintaining separation and will not include any training with a mixed-gender group,” the army said. “The training of the female soldiers will take place in parallel with the the regular training and will not affect them.”
Rabbi Shmuel Eliyahu, chief rabbi of the city of Safed, and a staunch opponent of women serving in mixed combat units, rejected the army’s claim that the men and women would be kept entirely separate.
He told Army Radio that he himself had served in the Armored Corps and that it was impossible for there to be no interaction between the soldiers, even if the women were in a separate tank.
“That’s not how it works in the army. There are get-togethers, there are briefings, there is sleeping at night,” he said. “It is not separate — it is one army.”
The female tank personnel will serve in the newly formed Border Defense Force, which is meant to secure Israel’s borders but not cross them.
The candidates will serve in all-female tanks, in order to avoid modesty issues. Serving on the southern borders, they will be less likely to need to cross into enemy territory.
Until now, women have been barred from serving in the tank brigades as it was believed that they could not physically handle the rigors of the Armored Corps. Female soldiers have, however, served as tank instructors.
Objections to women serving as combat soldiers in the Armored Corps has not only come from the religious sector.
The current head of the Armored Corps, Brig. Gen. Guy Hasson, came out strongly against allowing women a greater role in tank units, saying there were fundamental issues preventing integration of such units, including physical requirements and social concerns, as well as the “image” of the corps.
Critics of gender integration often decry it as a social experiment with potentially dangerous ramifications on national security, while defenders generally trumpet it as a long-needed corrective measure, one that has already occurred in many Western countries.
Judah Ari Gross contributed to this report.