IDF threatening Hesder (again) on ideological groundsFor more than forty years, the IDF has had a program called 'Hesder'. While the exact breakdown has varied from time to time, the basic idea has always been that boys spend five years in a Yeshiva which is a 'hesder' Yeshiva, as part of which they spend approximately a year and a half (as opposed to the three years men generally spend) on active duty in the army. When they complete their time in Yeshiva and the army, they continue to do reserve duty.
Back in February 2006, I published a post in which I reported that the IDF was seeking to disband Hesder. That plan was buried in light of this past summer's war in Lebanon, but now it is coming out of the woodwork again. The Jerusalem Post is reporting this morning that Hesder students are to be barred from the Golani Brigades and from the paratroopers, and they will have to leave Hesder in order to be permitted to serve in elite units. The new orders are the result of a fight between the Roshei Yeshiva of the Hesder Yeshivas and IDF Human Resources Head Maj.-Gen. Elazar Stern, who is religious himself. The fight is over whether the 'Hesdernikim' will serve in segregated units or in heterogeneous units that include non-religious soldiers.
Rabbis refused to acquiesce to Stern's demand that hesder soldiers supply a minimum of three "integrated" Golani and paratrooper platoons. These platoons would ensure an equal number of religious and secular soldiers. The rabbis and the hesder soldiers, many of whom support integrated platoons, nevertheless demanded the freedom to keep the platoons segregated and manned solely by religious hesder soldiers. A platoon consists of about 35 soldiers.The Roshei Yeshiva (Yeshiva heads) have not given up the fight:
The rabbis and MK Uri Ariel (National Union) wrote a letter to IDF Chief of General Staff Lt.-Gen. Gabi Askenazi, demanding a reversal of Stern's decision. In March, Ashkenazi supported the hesder yeshivot against Stern after the IDF human resources head demanded that the hesder yeshivot supply a minimum number of segregated platoons, said a hesder source.This is a case of the IDF cutting off its nose to spite its face:
In two separate inductions - a big one in March and a smaller one in August - a total of 1,200 hesder soldiers are recruited ever year. Three-quarters are accepted to combat units. Hesder soldiers are known in the IDF for their high motivation and their complete ideological identification with the use of force to defend Israel.It's also a case of vindictiveness:
A hesder yeshiva source explained that his soldiers felt more comfortable and fought better in segregated platoons. He said that the segregation facilitated a smoother transition into the army from the very religious, protected environment that the hesder soldiers are used to.
Last week, Stern sent a letter to Eitan Ozeri, administrative head of the hesder yeshiva network, which includes 45 yeshivot, notifying him of the change. Stern explained that since the yeshiva heads did not provide enough soldiers willing to serve in mixed platoons with secular soldiers, he would stop the induction of hesder soldiers to Golani and paratrooper units.IDF commanders are not pleased about this:
Instead, hesder soldiers will be directed to other IDF units such as tank and engineer brigades.
However, a hesder source told The Jerusalem Post that several Golani and paratrooper commanders have complained about the change.Stern's decision also effectively excludes the 'Hesdernikim' from elite units:
"Commanders want hesder platoons because they are highly motivated and really good soldiers," said the source. He said that keeping the platoons segregated enhanced these good qualities.
Stern also notified Ozeri that hesder soldiers applying to elite units would be forced to leave their yeshivot and would not be allowed to return. Currently, if a hesder soldier chooses to join an elite unit, he may return to hesder if he is injured or fails to be accepted. If he is accepted, the soldier must leave hesder and serve a full three-year army stint.But the real motivation for Stern's decision is political:
Sources acquainted with Stern said that he has always opposed the segregation of religious Zionist soldiers from their secular peers. However, in the wake of the disengagement from Gaza and North Samaria, during which large numbers of hesder soldiers and their rabbis threatened to refuse orders to evacuate Jewish settlements, Stern began pushing more aggressively for full integration of hesder soldiers. Stern sees integration as a means of "watering down" the ideological intensity of the hesder cliques in the IDF.The IDF continues to act vindictively against its best soldiers. They have learned nothing from the Winograd Commission report. If nothing else, the timing of this policy change is a cause for deep concern.
But disengagement also made many hesder soldiers rethink their loyalty to the IDF. The order to evacuate Jewish settlements is seen by many as the ideological bankruptcy of secular Zionism. In fact, Maj.-Gen. Tal Russo was appointed after disengagement to investigate ways of reconciliation between the IDF and religious Zionist soldiers.
Stern's decision to close the popular Golani and paratrooper brigades to hesder soldiers might exacerbate an already strained relationship.