The Israel Defense Forces (IDF) made great strides on the gender equity front last Tuesday, when the Israeli Air Force (IAF) appointed its first-ever female flight squadron commander. The pilot, identified only as “Major G.” for security and privacy reasons, will head the IAF’s 122 “Nachshon” CAEW/SEMA Squadron.
Both the squadron and its new commander are storied veterans in the IDF. Major G., who first enlisted as a transport pilot in 2003 at the age of 19, has served for nearly half her life but recognizes there still is a tremendous amount of work to be done.
In a statement released by the IDF, Major G. said, “It’s a great privilege that comes with immense responsibility. The real work is still ahead of me. I am proud to serve in the IAF.”
But Major G.’s promotion is not without precedent. In an effort to grow the pool of potential recruits for combat units, IDF Chief of Staff, Gadi Eisenkot, announced that 1,000 women were inducted into the military this summer for service in combat roles – nearly double that of the 2012 figure.
This follows an announcement in January of this year when the IDF named its first female commander of a ground support squadron.
Unfortunately, these changes do not come without criticism from conservatives in the Middle Eastern nation. A number of Orthodox Rabbi’s, including Colonel Eyal Karim, have called for the military to remove women from combat roles and create strict separations between men and women that serve in the same unit.
In 2012, Col. Karim implied that rape of female service members might be excused, given “consideration for the soldiers’ ‘difficulties’ while in combat.” He has since rescinded these comments and apologized, but many remain unconvinced considering he has since been promoted to Chief Rabbi within the IDF.
Many point out that changes might not be as altruistic as they seem, alluding to the IDF’s unwillingness to institute a professional army. Professor Yagil Levy, a political science scholar in Israel, explained that “[f]rom the army’s perspective women became an asset not because of feminism, but because the IDF realizes that when there is economic pressure to shorten the obligatory service and the toll of the missions is not alleviated… one mechanism the army can use in order to slow down the shift towards a professional army is creating attractions to women, and opening new options.”
But women of all backgrounds continue to push for their place in the Israeli military no matter the circumstances. Lieutenant Colonel Reut Rettig-Weiss, who took command of the Israeli Army’s Sky Riders Unit earlier this year, best summarized the sentiment. “Female soldiers participate in every aspect of the fighting, cross the borders, and take an equal part in operational activities.” This is vital work.
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