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Thursday, May 03, 2012

Religious soldiers group complains of terms of service violations at main Navy base in Atlit, threatens to remove all its soldiers; UPDATED

As many of you know, the trigger for the forthcoming elections was the Supreme Court's decision to invalidate the Tal Law. The Tal Law, which was passed about ten years ago in response to a previous Supreme Court decision that said that the IDF could not ignore ultra-Orthodox men who did not enlist in the army, set up a framework that allowed those men to defer army service so long as they were studying in yeshiva. With the Tal Law invalidated, the expectation of most people is that a 'fairer' law will be enacted, with the hope that more ultra-Orthodox men will join the army.

Those secular politicians who are able to rise above the populistic demand for 'equal' distribution of the army burden (and surprisingly, to this point at least, Yair Lapid seems to be among them) understand that without the voluntary cooperation of the ultra-Orthodox community, a 'fairer' system cannot work. They also understand that in order for the ultra-Orthodox to cooperate voluntarily, frameworks will have to be established that allow the ultra-Orthodox to serve without violating their religious beliefs. That means more time for prayers and Torah study (at least in non-emergency conditions), strict Sabbath and Kashruth observance, and most importantly, no contact with women.

But such a framework already exists. It's called the Netzach Yisrael (Israel forever) battalion and it's the battalion of the Nachal Charedi - the army's ultra-Orthodox unit. Started several years ago, Nachal Charedi includes both ultra-Orthodox men and some men from the National Religious community, and generally works well. Except when someone tries to go back to the bad old days of the 1950's when the army was used as a melting pot to try to get Orthodox Jews to be a little less Jewish and more Israeli.

Ha'Aguda l'Maan ha'Chayal ha'Torani (the Organization for the Religious Soldier - and for the record, to Israelis, Torani is generally understood to mean a higher standard than dati, even though both translate as 'religious' in English) is an organization that advocates for religious soldiers, both in Nachal Charedi and elsewhere in the IDF. On Wednesday night, I received a letter in Hebrew from the Organization, which I am translating below.
To: IDF Personnel Division Commander, General Orna Barbebai

Re: Additional violation of the Netzah Yehuda Terms of Service on the Naval Base at Atlit

Dear Madame,

Soldiers from Netzach Yehuda - Nachal Charedi serving at the Naval commando base in Atlit filed a complaint with the Organization yesterday (27 Nisan).

According to the 15 soldiers, they were forced to participate in an event at which female support soldiers were present, which violates the agreements between the IDF and the Netzach Yehuda battalion, which stipulate that the members will not carry out any activities with female soldiers during their entire army service.

The soldiers complained to Lieutenant Colonel Peretz, as required, but he reacted with scorn saying, "there will be no ostracizing of women here.

While we were in the process of verifying the soldiers' complaint, it became apparent to us that each morning, the soldiers were forced to stand at flag-raising with female soldiers. Therefore, what is under discussion, is not a one-off violation, but a repeated and fixed violation of Netzach [Yehuda]'s terms of service.

Additionally, this is not the first time we hear about violations of Netzach [Yehuda]'s terms of service at this base. To remind you, on 4 January 2012, it was publicized in the media that members of Netzach were forced to participate in courses with female soldiers and to clean the women's restrooms. In light of promises made at the time to Netzach's rabbis that these incidents would not reoccur, the current violations are even starker.

Our conclusion is that this base is not prepared to accept soldiers from Netzach Yehuda. We will do all we can to prevent additional soldiers from arriving there, and in doing so will contribute to the savings and efficiency that the army requires, because it has also become known to us that of the 15 [Netzach Yehuda] soldiers serving at the base, ten wander around with nothing to do except to serve as additional means to 'get' Netzach Yehuda's rabbis. These soldiers have top secret security clearances and completed training courses in their fields, but their standard work is moving rocks from place to place (grunt work) instead of working in the field for which they were trained.

We demand a speedy and proper reaction to what is written here, because we are disgusted by the long wait that ends in the disappointment of an answer that tries to whitewash the depressing facts.
This post has been sent to the IDF Spokesperson's office for comment.

I know that some of you are distinctly unsympathetic to Netzach Yehuda's terms of service (I can think of one commenter who has been quite emphatic about it). But think of it as a contract between the army and its soldiers. If the army doesn't fulfill its contract, why should the soldiers fulfill theirs? And why should those soldiers' brothers, friends and classmates enter into the same contract?

Go back to what I said at the top of this post. The only way that ultra-Orthodox men are going to serve in the IDF is if it is done on a cooperative basis. If the army can't keep its end of the bargain with a relatively small number of soldiers, then if universal service is imposed, there will be yeshivoth in every jail and every prison bed will be taken up by an ultra-Orthodox male who is still young enough to serve but who refuses to serve under the current conditions.

It's the IDF's choice.


I received the following response from the IDF Spokesperson's office.
The IDF has numerous projects intended to help Haredi soldiers integrate and serve within its ranks, among them Netzach Yehuda, Shahar Kahol, and others. There are clear guidelines regarding the rights of Haredi soldiers, including an explicit exemption from listening to women's singing in official ceremonies. The Organization for the Wellbeing of Torani Soldiers (Aguda Le'Maan Ha'Hayal Ha'Torani) is an unofficial body comprised of one man, and not recognized by the IDF as the organization responsible for representing Haredi or religious soldiers. The charges mentioned are being investigated, though some, pertaining to women's singing, have already been disproved.

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At 3:10 PM, Blogger Akiva said...

Early you refer to them as Netzach Yisroel, it's Netzach Yehuda.

A number of Nachal Charedi units have been transferred out of Nachal Charedi operational areas and are serving as security and patrol units on interior Israel bases (because Nachal Charedi is over capacity in their combat battalion).

The unit at base Sirkin by Petach Tikva has reported identical problems. I know people in the unit, the stories are first hand.

3 soldiers of the unit were sent to prison after going AWOL following Purim - where they (the whole unit) were not allowed time to hear a megillah reading and no arrangements were made for the unit. (Rather they were on security, patrol or alert-status the whole time, and could not even leave base to walk 3 blocks to a Chabad house nearby to hear megillah).


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