Yeshiva boys barred from combat units
Religious leaders clash with IDF's Human Resources chief, himself one of Israel's highest ranking religious officers, after army cancels segregated combat units within top brigades. National Union MK urges chief of staff to 'rein in' his officer but Stern unfazed, insists army must integrate all its soldiers
Hesder Yeshivas have long since been considered one of the strongest core groups within the IDF. Hesder, or arrangement, is a unique Israeli creation that allows religious young men to pursue Talmudic studies and later serve in the armed forces.
But their contribution is not without preconditions, and they so far have been allowed to serve in homogenous units comprised of only their fellow yeshiva recruits. Now Human Resources Directorate chief Maj. Gen. Elazar Stern, himself one of the army's top religious officers, aims to put an end to the practice.
New orders issued by Stern will bar hesder yeshiva students from joining the Golani and Paratrooper brigades, two of the most popular combat choices for religious recruits. The army will also change the manner in which it accepts hesder students to elite units.
Combat soldier prays (Photo: AP)
Yeshiva educators accused Stern of having a vendetta against the program. Stern has spoken out against homogenous units in the past. The IDF denied the allegations and said that the hesder recruits "have received preferential treatment for many years and from time to time there are changes that stem from the army's changing needs."
'No room for segregation in army'
A senior Human Resources officer said that the original understanding with the hesder yeshivas stipulated that there be a set number of mixed combat units that their students would join, the rest could go to homogenous ones. But the yeshivas demanded that there only be two mixed units, saying that the vast majority of their students only wanted to serve in segregated ones.
The IDF decided in response to cancel all homogenous units in the Golani and Paratrooper brigades since those divisions are in high demand amongst the rest of the army's recruits and there is no need for a hesder unit to fill in the ranks.
"We respect and appreciate the students of the hesder yeshivas and recognize their great contribution to the IDF. If they are willing to serve in mixed units, we will open the Golani and paratrooper divisions to them as well," said the senior officer. "There's a lot of importance to integrating religious and secular soldiers and we must remember that this is a people's army and a melting pot for Israeli society – everyone should work together and there is no reason to have homogenous units."
MK Ariel lashes out at Stern"Rein in Maj. Gen. Stern," wrote National Union-NRP faction chairman MK Uri Ariel to Chief of Staff Lt. Gen. Gabi Ashkenazi on Thursday following the groundbreaking decision.
"Stern's behavior continues to be aggressive and callous, he establishes facts on the ground, provokes unnecessary strife and continues to force his opinions on the general public and the army.
"Stern has forgotten that he is no longer chief education officer and even as such – it is not his role to teach citizens how they should act and what they should think."
In addition to writing Ashkenazi, Ariel has also asked the chairman of the Knesset Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee to discuss the subject in a special meeting.
"Maj. Gen. Stern must be put in his place and allow the recruits to join hesder only units, there is no room for this arrangement to change," said Ariel.