From left to right, Staff Sgt. Maya, Sgt. Noam and Brigadier General (Res.) Gila Klifi-Amir at a Friends of the Israel Defence Forces program April 3 in New York City. (photo by Shiryn Ghermezian)
Israel’s female soldiers seem to break barriers on a consistent basis. In January, new figures revealed that the number of women serving in combat roles in the Israel Defence Forces’ Homefront Command is up 38% this year. Last month, the IDF launched a pilot program in which women will be trained as tank operators for the first time.
Indeed, the Jewish state takes pride in being an oasis for gender equality in a Mideast region largely bereft of women’s rights, and this attitude extends to Israel’s military. At the same time, for a nation facing ever-present security threats both internally and on its borders, gender equality has its limits.
“The mission of the army is to protect and win. We need to understand that the mission of the army is not equal opportunity,” Brigadier General (Res.) Gila Klifi-Amir, who has had a 30-year career with the IDF and served as an adviser on women’s issues to the military’s chief of staff, said April 3 in New York City.
Klifi-Amir moderated a discussion with three female Israeli soldiers – Sgt. Noam, Staff Sgt. Maya and Staff Sgt. Y, whose full names were withheld for security reasons – in a program hosted by the Young Leadership Division of Friends of the Israel Defence Forces, a nonprofit whose mission is “to provide for education and well-being” of IDF soldiers.
The soldiers on the panel all told JNS.org they have never felt discrimination for being a woman in the military, and that their male counterparts treat them with respect. Y described the interactions as “very, very professional,” and Maya – who commands an infirmary at her battalion’s headquarters – explained, “We train with the guys, we do everything like them. Inside the unit, everything is the same.”
Israel is the world’s only country where military service is obligatory for women. From ages 18-26, women must serve two years in the military – with some exceptions, such as if they are pregnant. Today, 95% of the IDF’s positions are available to women, according to Klifi-Amir.
Yet “equal opportunity” does not exist in the purest sense, the soldiers said. Klifi-Amir told the crowd she does not believe all military positions should be open for women, depending on the mission. The physical training required for some military roles may be too grueling for a woman’s body, and the IDF is responsible for the life of each soldier, she said.
Read more at jns.org.