In September 2016 the Liba Center published a report with a title that speaks volumes: “Coerced Pluralism” in the military. The report not only dispelled the popular impression that the army is becoming more religious, it says that the exact opposite is taking place – the army is becoming the vanguard of the radical liberal agenda. The Liba report exposed, perhaps for the first time, the radical shift of values the IDF has chosen to adopt.
Since then clashes between religious leaders and the army have become more frequent and more volatile. The recent clash involves rabbi Yigal Levinstein’s remarks on coed combat units of men and women. Levinstein, head of the prestigious pre-military academy of Eli, said on March 7, among other things, that the IDF “recruits [religious women] to the army, where they enter as Jews, but they are not Jews by the time they leave … not in the genetic sense, but all of their values and priorities have been upset and we must not allow it.” Two days later Minister of Defense Avigdor Lieberman said that “anyone offending army values can’t educate youth going to serve in it.” Lieberman threatened that the academy would be shut down unless Levinstein resign.
This conflict, yet to be resolved, created even greater tension after Israel Prize winner, moderate rabbi Eli Sadan was summoned, together with Levinstein, to the Defense Minister’s office, where it was expected of them to capitulate. In his article “Saving the IDF – No Draft” MK Bezalel Smotrich of the Jewish Home party wrote: “Like a loving mother who sees her beloved son associating with bad company, needs to rein him in before he slides away, even if she must hurt him, so must we, in our great love for the IDF, save it from the claws of extreme postmodernism that has overtaken it with the shiny wrap of equality – accepting the other – we have to use measures to bring the army back to its senses.” One of the measures he suggested is postponing the drafting of pre-military students for a few months. “The army will then ask itself what is better – first class soldiers or unisex bathrooms.”
Smotrich’s suggestion to postpone the draft was understood as a call to avoid military service altogether, which caused even his party members to criticize him. Yet Smotrich’s suggestion is mild in comparison to other voices now being openly voiced.
Writing on the religious portal Srugim, Rabbi Ariel Bareli, head of the Hesder Yeshiva of Sderot, said quite clearly that a temporary separation between the army and the religious community may be necessary.
Smotrich’s suggestion, says Bareli, “is correct and healthy, we have to remember where we came from. The source is realizing the vision of the prophets … this is the Torah with which our students go with into the army, and it is it that empowers them to risk their lives.” Therefore, he writes, “there can be a situation in which avoiding enlisting to the military, that forces upon its soldiers secularization and promiscuity” could become an option. Bareli doesn’t suggest it to be the first option but, the very suggestion from a rabbi who teaches Yeshiva students that will become soldiers, signal to all who are concerned that more influential rabbis are willing to risk their career rather than compromise.
This hard line is condemned, for now, by most rabbis, it is nevertheless a warrying sign of the real rift developing between the IDF and the religious community.