Sisters (up) in arms
Hebrew media review

Sisters (up) in arms

Some nasty comments from old generals (and a possible future IDF chief rabbi) bring the issue of female fighters in the IDF to the fore — too bad almost everyone weighing in is a man

The female soldiers of the Jordan Lions Battalion during their swearing-in ceremony in February 2015. (IDF Spokesperson's Unit.)
The female soldiers of the Jordan Lions Battalion during their swearing-in ceremony in February 2015. (IDF Spokesperson's Unit.)

Israeli tabloids, much like Israeli hasbaristas and pretty much anyone who knows how clickbait works, love the opportunity to put a woman in uniform, or with a gun, on the front page. Tuesday morning provides that opportunity to Israel’s papers and without even being sexist. A true win-win, so long as you’re not one of those women being marginalized.

The role of females in the military has suddenly become a topic nearly as hot as a roiling row over a submarine-purchasing affair, thanks to talk of putting women in tanks, some chauvinistic comments from a former general and the IDF’s pick for chief rabbi being told to explain how he really feels about soldiers raping non-Jews.

Yedioth Ahronoth is the only paper to take the bait, filling its first few pages with photos of women in uniform and collecting what they think about all this hubbub, specifically comments by some former army honchos on the integration of women into combat roles being a plot to weaken the army and saying that letting women and men into a tank “means in nine months there will be a little tank soldier.”

“On a personal level I know women can do everything,” Lt. Col. Oshrat Bachar, who was the army’s first female battalion commander, tells the paper. “I’m not offended by the comments. They don’t need to be addressed. The women proved and continue to prove they can achieve anything. I predict we’ll see women in tanks in a short time.”

Commentator Yossi Yehoshua writes that all the chauvinistic commenters are just people stuck in a bygone era.

“In a symbolic way, as old generals were getting in a fuss over the army’s plans to integrate women into the armored corps, yesterday saw a record broken in the integration of women in senior roles, with the nomination of six female brigadier generals and 32 female colonels. There’s many complications in women serving in the army, both physiological and socially in their interactions with ultra-Orthodox soldiers. But the series of comments lately belong to another reality, a world of the maideleh of [President] Ezer Weizmann who used the term for Alice Miller, who paved the way for women to serve in the air force,” he writes, using the Yiddish term for little girl.

Haaretz may have its head underwater, keeping an ear to the sonar on the submarine affair, but its editorial board manages to surface with an appeal for the army to ignore those who say a woman’s place is to be a mother.

“Instead of being afraid of opening additional all-male clubs to women, we should denounce the disturbing views of some rabbis, who see every encounter between men and women as having the potential for sexual licentiousness, and who see women’s singing, and sometimes even that of girls, as an act of sexual seduction,” the editorial reads. “These primitive and chauvinistic arguments against integrating women into the military are groundless. The IDF should follow in the footsteps of the world’s most advanced armies, and not capitulate to zealotry and ignorance.”

Israel Hayom also leads off with the issue, though it focuses more on the freezing of Rabbi Eyal Karim’s appointment over his comments, which yes, include saying women should not serve according to Jewish law.

Rabbi Eyal Karim poses for a picture in the Old City of Jerusalem, March 19, 2000. (Flash90)
Rabbi Eyal Karim poses for a picture in the Old City of Jerusalem, March 19, 2000. (Flash90)

In dueling commentaries, the papers Dror Eydar and Dan Margalit have a Talmudic disagreement over whether the court overstepped its bounds in ordering Karim to testify.

Eydar calls the court ruling a “farce” and goes on to list all the terrible things that a literalist can pull out of Jewish law, including killing wayward sons and making the stomachs of adulterous wives explode and yes, raping non-Jewish women in wartime.

“Only boors and simpletons would think Rav Karim actually allows these terrible things,” he writes. “If we go with the complainants, we should burn millions of pages of commentary in Jewish writings written over the generations on much worse things.”

Nested into his commentary, much like a page of Talmud might look, Margalit brings down another opinion that just because there are some harsh things in Jewish law doesn’t excuse a rabbinical authority from being a voice of reason, citing the Talmud’s famous denial of a Biblical story about a prophet causing 42 children to be eaten by bears in some woods.

“It says already in the Gemara – 1,500 years ago – ‘there were no bears and no forest.’ It never could have happened since it’s not appropriate for Judaism to remain apathetic in the face of such horror,” he writes.

If you’ve notice a theme, it’s that every column so far has been written by a member of one gender, and its not the ones with two x chromosomes.

In Yedioth, Chen Artzi Sror, finally bringing a female voice into the mix, ties both affairs together and argues along the way that making babies in a tank is probably not exactly on the minds of whatever women will be stuck in a tin can stinking with man musk. Though you’d have to ask a woman to find that out, wouldn’t you.

“[Karim] fell into the same trap as the others. He spoke about women instead of talking to them,” she writes. “There are two issues that are holy in the State of Israel – religion and security. Unfortunately those are the two most mannish subjects there are.”

One might add a third subject to the holy triumvirate – corruption. Haaretz leads off its paper with a story reporting that Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s personal lawyer David Shimron met with a government representative to sink a tender for ships in the service of his German overlord, despite claims he did not such thing.

The report piggybacks on a Channel 10 expose on the issue, but adds a defense source making clear how out of line it was for the tender to be withdrawn.

“It stinks from every direction,” the source is quoted saying.

The paper’s Amos Harel writes that as more and more info comes out about the affair, including calls Shimron made as behalf of ThyssenKrupp and its Israeli representative Michael Ganor, the public is being asked to take quite the leap of faith on Shimron not playing a double game, even unintentionally.

“It’s not clear what the people in these conversations and meeting knew about Shimron’s role as Ganor’s counsel. There is not, given that, any doubt that they knew well that Shimron was the lawyer for Netanyahu and close to him. There is a bit of complexity here, such that the prime minister shaking off knowing anything about it requires an extraordinary amount of faith in the purity of the intentions of those involved.”

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