Young religious women are defying rabbis’ orders and joining the army. The more they are forbidden to do so, the higher the numbers. The Chardal (nationalist Haredi) public’s outcry against the integration of women is mainly an internal outcry against the loss of control over religious girls. The educational system isn’t working – they are enlisting in masses.
Those looking for the source of feminism should let go of foolish arguments, such as left-wing organizations and an attempt to weaken the IDF. Feminism was Zionist long before it was American, in the women’s liberation movement of the 1960s. The first pioneers, who rebelled against the Diaspora and against religion, also rebelled against the perception that the woman belongs in the kitchen. Women did everything. Those who wanted to, worked the land and guarded. In the War of Independence, there were women fighters and pilots.
Alongside the heroic story of Hannah Szenes, there were female fighters everywhere. One of them, who is still with us, is Paulette Kumar, who immigrated from France to Kibbutz Sdot Yam and was one of the founders of the Israeli Navy’s special operations unit Shayetet 13. She was the unit’s first and last female fighter. Unfortunately, she won’t give interviews, but as a historian I keep remembering her.
Women pioneers and fighters played a much bigger role in the national effort than rabbis. Within the confusion of the creation of a Jewish state out of nothing, there was no time to seriously deal with the status of women or with its meaning. It just happened.
And now to the bad news for Zionist feminism: The enlistment of women to certain combat roles isn’t worthwhile. Women are physiologically different from men, so it’s possible to turn them into pilots and sailors but it’s harder to load 60 kilograms on their backs and send them to hide far out in the field. There is a very low chance, therefore, that they will be able to endure the exhausting training of some ground units.
Women and men serving alongside each other create a recipe for military confusion. A weak spot. That’s how the proper integration orders developed, leading to the separation between the sexes in accommodation and certain activities. That led to the creation of special units for women fighters, like the Carcal Battalion, in order to make it work.
The incorporation of women in combat roles includes two variables: Physical abilities and the price. If, for one or two girls a decade who are capable of completing a Sayeret Matkal course, the unit will be completely changed – with separate accommodation and separate systems in the friction points – the army will find itself engaging in the fulfillment of feminism instead of in training fighters.
At the end of the day, the army’s job is to win, not to be a school for gender equality. Are women capable of serving in the Armored Corps? The answer is yes. Should they be placed in a crowded tank filled with men during a 24-hour ambush? I see mostly disadvantages. Perhaps a feminine tank?
Anything is possible. Women can play soccer with teams of men. There are even a few women who exceed most men in their physical abilities, yet the teams are separate and the groups in the higher leagues are purely male. Women can compete in the same sports as men, but the separation remains. And they can also run countries and issue orders to the army.
Anything is possible, but not everything happens.
Women’s service in the army is not at the forefront of the feminist struggle; it is only a minor part of that struggle. There are women today who receive a lower salary than men for doing a similar job. Actresses who lose work because of their age, unlike male actors. There are sexual harassments, and there are sectors in Israel in which women are still murdered as part of honor killings.
The debate on the integration of women in the army must be based on reason rather than on emotion and insults, which is the style Israeli female politicians. We are allowed to think that having women in the Armored Corps is not a worthwhile process, we are allowed to ask whether the price is too high and the physical limitations are not worth the effort. We are allowed to talk without being afraid of being portrayed as the enemies of feminism.