Michal Gera Margaliot: Fighting for Inclusion of Women in the IDF [ssba]

Michal Gera Margaliot: Fighting for Inclusion of Women in the IDF

Recently Haredi-Zionist rabbis have been pressing the IDF to separate female and male soldiers serving in the same units. They argue that the current Joint Service order, which regulates the inclusion of women in gender-mixed units, hampers the modesty requirements of religious soldiers. In response, a coalition of Israeli organizations fighting for women’s rights and religious pluralism appealed to the IDF chief of Staff saying that “Segregation based on gender is a violation the principle of equality and is against the Basic Law: Human Dignity and Liberty.”

Michal Gera Margaliot is the managing director of Israel Women’s Network and a fellow at the Alliance for Israel’s Future. She published this text in Saloona on July 27, 2017.

The changes expected in the Joint Service Order will segregate female soldiers and push them aside.

The IDF is considering changes to the Joint Service Order, because of Haredi-Zionist rabbinical pressure. The pressuring rabbis are the same rabbis who argue that women shouldn’t serve in the IDF at all and that female soldiers hamper the IDF’s ability to win.

Three comments on the expected changes to the Joint Service Order:

First, the new order states that the IDF should plan events which “make all the soldiers feel comfortable from the outset.” But we already know that the demand to be considerate is always one-sided: we must consider the feelings of religious soldiers, they don’t need to consider ours. The number of females on stage in IDF events has already shrunk, and sometimes female soldiers are even forbidden to sing in public. Making “all soldiers feel comfortable from the outset” means that from now on women in the IDF will neither perform on stage nor appear in official ceremonies.

Second, [the new order determines that] an IDF officer will be permitted to refuse commanding females in joint units. This means that without official declarations, fewer jobs and assignments will be opened to women, because opening positions to women would invite religious officers and soldiers to refuse and make special requests. The new order gives the impression that the IDF cares more about the new sensibilities of religious soldiers than the actual contribution of female soldiers.

Third, [by surrendering to rabbinical demands] the IDF gives credence to the hallucinatory theories of the extremist rabbis, according to which female soldiers hamper the IDF’s ability to win. The new order create new segregated service units and from now on when a soldier says he is uncomfortable serving with a woman – the IDF will move her aside.

But, women make up about a third of all IDF soldiers, and their number in combat and combat support positions has risen in recent years. The extreme leadership of the national-religious public is the one distracting the IDF and hampering its ability to win.
The truth is that the IDF cannot exist without the women’s service. But the struggle against pushing the women out of the army should not be a women’s fight alone. The IDF is leading a change that is expected to create gender segregated units. But there is another option. Secular soldiers and officers, choose to serve with your sisters, the women. If religious soldiers don’t want to serve with women, let them serve not only in gender homogenous units, but also in religious units. If religious soldiers want to serve without women, they can also serve without secular men.

The rabbis demand to annul the Joint Service Order. We agree: there is no need for an order regulating gender inclusion in the IDF. We live together all our lives and we will serve togetherץ Religious soldiers are welcomed to take part in the people’s army, which includes women. Religious soldiers who don’t want to serve in accordance with the values of the IDF and the State of Israel will have to find segregated units that will push them aside, rather than push female soldiers to a corner.

Why is public transportation a question in Israel? And how are cooperatives an answer? [ssba]

Why is public transportation a question in Israel? And how are cooperatives an answer?

In most countries, public transportation is taken for granted. In Japan commuter trains are known to be crowded, in Brazil buses can be dangerous, but no one questions whether they should run. In Israel, a country whose founding fathers sought normalcy, transportation is indicative of anything but that.

Public transportation in Israel is limited by religious dictation. Although polls show that more than 70% of the public supports transportation 24/7, Israel politicians, cowering at the religious and mostly ultra-religious demands, restrict public transportation according to the hours of the Sabbath. Public transportation in Israel shuts down well before the Sabbath begins and resumes only well after it has left. The result is that people cannot visit friends and family and can’t reach centers where activity is permitted (movie theaters, for example, and other forms of entertainment are open and running on weekends). These restrictions are a huge source of resentment and anger both at the religious establishment that demand the enforcement of prohibitions and at the politicians who submit to them.

Recently, a number of grassroots initiatives have challenged this situation. Rather than merely venting frustrations, activists in several cities, first in Jerusalem, have begun offering alternatives. “Shabus” is a cooperative, the creation of a group of social activists who were determined to establish a practical, accessible and fully legal mode of transportation in Jerusalem on weekends. Since it is private, the Ministry of Transportation hasn’t raised objections to it. Since it is a non-profit, it is made easy for anyone to join.

The creators of Shabus sought a way to help the many people of all ages – particularly the young and elderly — without cars or licenses who feel trapped on weekends. |For apart from the religious confrontation, the prohibition on public transportation creates a great social gap: although the slightly older and more financially secure population is able to enjoy the burgeoning urban life, tens of thousands of Jerusalemites, including the forty thousand students in the city, thousands of soldiers, the elderly, as well as young people (most of whom do not own cars) are denied the opportunity to enjoy their leisure time as they please. Shabus is particularly important to people who live in the periphery of Jerusalem for whom the only alternative is taxis, which are prohibitively expensive, and to people with disabilities for whom a long walk or a bicycle ride is not a feasible option.

Video Caption: “I want to visit my grandmother on the other side of town on Saturday,” “I want to take my daughter to the Biblical zoo but I don’t have a car…” Shabus! Have you had enough? We too, so a few of us met and created Shabus, a weekend transportation service. 

Furthermore, the founders of Shabus sought to promote public transportation all week long. Many people would happily forgo their cars, thereby minimizing the congestion and improving the air in the city, were public transportation available on weekends. Especially since the advent of the light rail, an increasing number of Jerusalemites express willingness to make use of greener ways of getting around town, but knowing they’ll be stranded on weekends discourages them.

Finally, Shabus is a great answer to the growing problem of drinking under the influence of alcohol. Most riders of Shabus are under the age of 25, with a majority being soldiers home for the weekend. Soldiers commonly drink on their evenings home and are usually overtired. Shabus has become a popular means of insuring their safety. On Shabus, soldiers on leave can meet, socialize, drink, and be brought home safely — without endangering themselves or others by driving without necessary caution.

Shabus and its sister cooperatives need to continue to grow to reach the volume which will enable them to be financially self-sustaining. In the meantime, they rely on donations and ideological supporters to help them cultivate a wide enough base to bring about the change they seek: making themselves obsolete by finally prompting politicians to do what the public expects of them by allowing public transportation on weekends. When they do so, these cooperatives will not only be making mobility a possibility for all but will be helping break the extremist monopoly and taking one step further in allowing Israel to become the pluralist and just society that most Israelis and Jews hope it will be.

Daniel Ben Simon on the Rift between Mizrahim and the Israeli Left [ssba]

Daniel Ben Simon on the Rift between Mizrahim and the Israeli Left

In 1997 Labor Party chairman Ehud Barak asked Mizrahi Jews to forgive the party for its treatment of the 1950s North African immigration. He got the idea from Daniel Ben-Simon’s book Another Country which tells the story of Benjamin Netanyahu’s 1996 victory. Ben Simon recalled a conversation between Shimon Peres and Shas’ leader, Aryeh Deri. Dari told Peres that “The Moroccans don’t like you. They don’t forgive the Labor Movement for its treatment of them in the 1950s” and advised him to ask for forgiveness. “Mind you, he told Peres, they are not in the Likud’s pocket. On the contrary. They are moderate and tolerant people.” Barak called Ben Simon the night he decided to apologize. Ben Simon thought it might work

I asked him why Barak’s apology was did not help heal the wound. “Barak wanted to steal the oriental vote from the Likud,” he said, “and he won the election. He won the election because the Orientals voted from him in 1999. He had a huge victory. But after the election he went back to being Barak, the Israeli army general who promised change of priorities and did nothing for it. […] He was busy with the Palestinian issue and eventually those orientals saw him as a person who couldn’t keep to his word.” Ben Simon argues that what had to be done then and still hasn’t been done is “a Marshal Plan for the development towns.” Read More »

Erasing the Al-Aqsa Mosque from Tourist Maps [ssba]

Erasing the Al-Aqsa Mosque from Tourist Maps

Shalom Boguslavsky is a Jerusalem tourist guide. He wrote a Facebook post today responding to a new map distributed by Israel’s Ministry of Tourism:

I don’t understand what Israel’s Ministry of Tourism wants. My licensing examination required (and rightly so) memorizing the principles of Islam and learning about the Islamic sites around the country and particularly in Jerusalem. But now the Ministry is distributing this ancient Jerusalem tourist map without Muslim sites.

This is not about the absence of hundreds of small Muslim sites that you would expect to find on a map of the Old City. I’m speaking to the fact that Al-Aqsa Mosque is not on the map!

The Dome of the Rock, the foundation stone and Solomon’s Stables are there, but Al-Aqsa isn’t.

You would have expected to find some Muslims sites in the Muslim Quarter [of the Old City of Jerusalem]. But there, the map shows the Israeli settler organization Ateret Cohanim’s houses and yeshivas and several churches and monasteries. Muslim sites, in the Muslim Quarter? Why would you even show them?

In addition to the Ministry of Tourism logo, the map includes Israel’s “rebranding” logo, a project that cost about a hundred million shekels. The idea was to convince tourists that Israel is not an insular, religious, militaristic and dark country, but rather young, cool, pluralistic and creative. Good luck with that.

Perhaps consider a new form of branding: “Israel – you won’t meet a single Muslim there. What do you think we are, Sweden?”

Temple Mount view from Mount of Olives

The view of the Old City of Jerusalem from Armon Hanatziv Promenade

One of the commentators on Shalom’s post wrote that his daughter had visited Jerusalem on a school trip. They were standing on Armon Hanatziv Promenade looking at the Old City, and the guide described the sites. One student pointed at the Dome of the Rock and asked “what’s that?” The guide responded: “We will not speak about it today.”

Oddly enough, another interesting item popped up today on my Facebook feed. It seems that the Temple Mount Faithful movement launched a Headstart fundraising campaign for their Passover sacrifice dress rehearsal. They are seeking 25,000 shekels for this annual ritual in which kohanim (members of the priestly class) perform the various stages of the sacrifice of a lamb through the roasting and eating of the lamb.

The Headstart fundraiser features a video depicting a father reading the Passover Haggadah with his two sons. One of the sons asks, perplexed: “But why, dad, why don’t we perform the Passover sacrifice anymore?” The father finds the question challenging. It is clearly not because we no longer have a temple, he says.

For the Temple Mount Faithfuls this annual ritual is indeed a “dress rehearsal.” It is the final full costume rehearsal shortly before the first real performance. The only thing in their way is the Al-Aqsa Mosque. Oh how they wish it could be erased from the map.


Tomer Persico, The Duality of Israeli Existence [ssba]

Tomer Persico, The Duality of Israeli Existence

The following is a translation of a Facebook post, Dr. Tomer Persico published today. In the eight hours since it was published, it received over 1,700 likes. By the time you read it, it will have many more. Persico is a Research Fellow at the Shalom Hartman Institute in Jerusalem, and teaches at the department for Comparative Religion in Tel-Aviv University. But more than that, he is an astute observer of Israeli reality.

Translator: Maya Haber

The story over the last few weeks is the collapse of the delicate duality the Israeli government has been trying to preserve for years. It is the duality of occupation at home and democracy for abroad, religious coercion at home and a booming high-tech industry abroad, the stabbing at a Jerusalem Pride parade and pinkwashing for abroad. This is a strategic duality. It allows Israel to play a part in the community of enlightened nations. It has enormous benefits like trade agreements, the ability to purchase advanced weaponry (and silent permission to possess nuclear weapons) and the right to participate in the coalition of the virtuous allies fighting against jihadist Islam. Read More »

Zehava Galon remembers Yossi Sarid [ssba]

Zehava Galon remembers Yossi Sarid

The following is a translation of a Facebook post by Zehava Galon, published today:

Last night we commemorate a month to the passing of Yossi Sarid. This is what I said in his memory:

At the end of 1987, when the first intifada began, Dedi Zucker, Avigdor Feldman and I met with Yossi Sarid asking his advice on how to name a new Israeli organization which we established to document human rights violations in the occupied territories. We discussed various names. Then Yossi (scratching his scalp) stood up pulled his much-used Bible, skimmed it and found the verse “And God created man in His image, in the image of God (B’tselem Elohim) He created him” (Gen 1:26–28). This became the name of B’Tselem until today. Read More »

Holding a Mirror to Jewish Nationalism in Times of Strife [ssba]

Holding a Mirror to Jewish Nationalism in Times of Strife

Jerusalem-vistaA third intifada looks to be around the corner. Unlike the previous two, there is no top-down coordination, no leaders at the head of the charge. This is a populist uprising. There is still time to avoid the worst, but we are hanging on a precipice. As individuals, we cannot do anything about settler violence, nor Bibi’s repressive policies, any more than we can do anything about Palestinian terrorism. But we can challenge ourselves and each other and uproot the racist discourse becoming ever more prevalent in our communities.

We can challenge each other to avoid sensationalist propaganda, turn our backs on rhetoric that demonizes other human beings for wanting the same peace and security that we long for, and look at each other with compassion instead of fear and suspicion. We can challenge half-truths and tribalism, and embrace some hard, complex, and complicated truths. This is hard to do when we are afraid for our lives, and the lives of our loved ones. Being vulnerable is scary, and being under attack for your lives terrifying. But we must recognize that this road we are on is not just counterproductive, but outright dangerous – for everyone, for all of us embroiled in this conflict. If we continue down this path, we will all of us, Israeli and Palestinian, Jewish and Arab, be burying many more dead. We should do everything we can to avoid that tragic outcome. Read More »

Will secular Jewish identity survive outside of Israel? [ssba]

Will secular Jewish identity survive outside of Israel?

Prof. Steven M. Cohen (pictured above) is the main go-to sociologist/pollster nowadays on American-Jewish issues.  In this Forward article and video (Aug. 8), “How To Stabilize the Declining Jewish Middle — Or Even Reverse It,” he lays out what he knows about the demographics of American Jewry that disturbs him: Younger non-Orthodox generations of American Jews are declining in relative numbers and in self-identification as Jews and in Jewish communal activities — as compared with the modern Orthodox and ultra-Orthodox (Hasidim and other Haredim) who are vigorously Jewish religiously and have more children than non-Orthodox Jews.  Part of his prescription for a response by the organized American Jewish community is to be more welcoming to converts and to the growing number of families with mixed Jewish and non-Jewish parentage.

I agree, of course, but I also regret that a secular Jewish identity has not emerged in a more influential way in the Jewish community.  Whether via the congregational model associated with the late Rabbi Sherwin Wine’s small movement (the Society for Humanistic Judaism), or the social justice activism and Yiddishism traditionally associated with the Workmen’s Circle, or in other currents once associated with the Communist Party or (Lehavdil) the Jewish Labor Bund, or via Jewish communal activism in local federations or in the national “defense” groups (e.g., the Anti-Defamation League, the American Jewish Committee, the Jewish Labor Committee) — secularism as an organized expression of the American Jewish experience has been declining.

Part of this is because of a good thing: American Jews have been accepted as equals (even as “cool”) by a majority of non-Jewish Americans; let’s call it “the Seinfeld effect.”  Over the course of about 30-40 years, American Jews are being “loved to death” by other Americans, with intermarriage now the norm for non-Orthodox Jews. This growing social liberalism has even transformed attitudes toward Jews among the traditional right-wing in the United States, with Republicans possibly becoming more “pro-Jewish” than Democrats, even as the latter is still the political home of most American Jews. Read More »

Religious pluralism as a human rights issue [ssba]

Religious pluralism as a human rights issue

The following is from Judy Wall, co-president of Partners for Progressive Israel, reacting to Shmuel Rosner’s NY Times opinion piece (“Don’t Disrespect American Jews“) on how Pres. Reuven Rivlin (pictured above, at right, meeting with a PPI delegation) still needs to fully accept the legitimacy of non-Orthodox streams of Judaism, which American Jews adhere to in greater numbers than Orthodoxy:

Although there is much to admire in President Rivlin’s words and actions during the past year, it is troubling that he continues not to support the rights of practicing non-orthodox Jews in Israel and the diaspora.  This particular case is deeply personal and disturbing to me.  The Conservative rabbi who made this enormous commitment of bringing a child with special needs into the full experience of Jewish life was denied the opportunity and satisfaction of carrying out and authorizing his Bar Mitzvah.

Religious pluralism in Israel is an issue on which we we must stand firm and allow our voice to be heard.  History has shown us that when Jews are not given an alternative to Orthodoxy, they often disengage from Jewish practice and identification.  I very much hope that President Rivlin will come to recognize religious pluralism as a human rights issue and a necessary part of a true democratic society.

Haredim and Israel’s Election: Fault-Lines & Fissures [ssba]

Haredim and Israel’s Election: Fault-Lines & Fissures

The Haredi world in Israel is riven with conflict.  It all came out in the recent elections.  One Jerusalem Haredi rabbi, one of the few with advanced secular educational credentials, summed it up:  “Before I voted, I went to the mikvah.  After I voted, I went to the mikvah.”

Right off the bat, it’s important to know that the two partners in the Ashkenazi-Haredi party Yahadut HaTorah HaM’uchedet (United Torah Judaism)—Degel Hatorah and Agudat Yisrael—can’t stand each other.  Agudat Yisrael, for a century, was the representative of the non-Hasidic yeshivot (the so-called Lithuanian yeshivot) and most Haredi communities.  Agudat Yisrael in the 1980s lost its power base in the yeshivot to Degel Hatorah, and was further weakened when in the 1980s the leader of Degel Hatorah assisted the Sefardi Haredim, heretofore represented by Agudah, in organizing their own party, Shas.

More serious is the hair-pulling within Degel HaTorah, the party of the Ashkenazi Mitnagdim, the non-Chasidic Haredi community, centered on the famed Ponevezh Yeshiva in Bnai Brak.

The two leading figures in the non-Chasidic Haredi community are Rabbi Aaron Leib Steinman, the successor to Rabbi Yosef Shalom Eliashiv, and considered to be a relative moderate (“relative” is the operative locution); and Rabbi Shmuel Auerbach of Jerusalem, son of the famed rabbinic leader Rabbi Shlomo Zalman Auerbach, and who is considered a religious extremist.  Rabbi Auerbach is opposed to Rabbi Steinman’s leadership of the Haredi community, and started his own newspaper, HePeles (The Line-Level) to compete with Degel’s Yated Ne’eman.

The battle fought by the Steinman and Auerbach camps over draft evasion and other matters came to a head in the days before the election, when Rabbi Auerbach directed his supporters to boycott the elections.  Some 30,000 Haredim heeded Auerbach’s words, costing United Torah Judaism one seat in the new Knesset, and ratcheting up the heat in an already polarized sectarian religious community.

A struggle for truth or justice?  Not a chance.  It was all about power. Read More »