Israeli defense minister says army not pushing ‘feminist agenda’ with mixed-gender units


Avigdor Liberman

Israeli Defense Minister Avigdor Liberman speaking to the Knesset Defense and Foreign Affairs Committee, March 6, 2017. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

JERUSALEM (JTA) — Defense Minister Avigdor Liberman rejected accusations that the Israel Defense Forces is pushing a “feminist agenda” with its mixed-gender units.

Liberman made the comments Wednesday at the inauguration of a new army training base in the Negev for mixed-gender border defense units.

“The IDF is not advancing any agenda, not a feminist or a chauvinistic one,” he said. “The IDF has one agenda: Israel’s security. Therefore its considerations are solely operational considerations.”

Rabbis and other members of the Orthodox Jewish community have increasingly worried about the immodesty of men serving alongside women.

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In March, Rabbi Yigal Levinstein, the head of a pre-army religious academy in the West Bank settlement Eli, told several hundred graduates of a West Bank religious academy located near his own that female soldiers lose their Jewish “values and priorities,” and called the idea of women commanders “madness.

Liberman, the head of the nationalist Yisrael Beinteinu party, threatened to cut Defense Ministry funding to the Bnei David Preparatory academy but later backtracked.

Amid the public outcry, Liberman said Wednesday that he would reconsider Levinstein’s “fitness to prepare young people for service in the Israel Defense Forces.” Levinstein subsequently said that while he would not retract his statements, he acknowledged that the way in which he made the remarks was “inappropriate.”

Some religious Zionist rabbis defended Levinstein.

In November, Eyal Karim’s appointment as chief army rabbi was put on hold because he had said women’s army service is “entirely forbidden” for reasons of modesty and opposed women singing at army events. He later apologized for the remarks.

The army has several mixed-gender border defense battalions and in recent years has increased the recruitment of women to combat units, most recently allowing them to serve in the Armored Corps for the first time. Despite their rabbis’ concerns, religious female recruits have doubled in recent years, according to a May study commissioned by the Knesset.

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