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Demography as Destiny: Israel's Growing Right Shapes Law, Military

Demography as Destiny: Israel's Growing Right Shapes Law, Military

The increasingly progressive Atlantic Monthly correspondent and former Forward staffer Jeffrey Goldberg (for the last time, no, we’re not the same person) posted a link on his blog Tuesday to an online essay — which he called “hard to disagree with” — by senior research fellow Hussein Ibish of the American Task Force on Palestine. Here’s the excerpt Goldberg posted on his blog:

For the record, I’ve been writing about this Israeli demographic shift for a couple of years now: (Here and here with numbers on the overall demographic trend; here, here and here on the way it’s affecting the army and the alarm within the General Staff over the topic.) Up to now the issue hasn’t much entered the public discourse in this country, partly because it’s obscure and rarely hits the front pages in Israel; partly, too, because it touches on some pretty radioactive Jewish sensibilities. It seems like it’s taken the Boycott Law and the larger debate over anti-democratic legislation (here is a pretty sharply framed Haaretz piece on the trend) to put it on the agenda here.

As a matter of fact, demography hit the front pages in Israel this week for an entirely different reason: the debate within the army that I’ve written about on the impact of religious soldiers exploded this week, following the Tuesday publication of a bombshell Haaretz report on a lengthy letter by a top Israel Defense Forces general to the chief of staff, warning of a growing threat of religious extremism in the military.

The document was written for circulation among the General Staff by the recently retired head of the IDF Manpower Directorate, Major General Avi Zamir, on the occasion of his stepping down a month ago. According to Haaretz military correspondent Amos Harel, who obtained a leaked copy, the letter “details the struggle between the Education Corps and the Military Rabbinate, and says rabbinic demands for modesty undermine the standing of female officers and soldiers.”

The report has caused a storm of debate. Haaretz wrote in an editorial today that the army’s high command was being dangerously passive in the face of what amounts to a challenge to its authority by “its rival, the rabbis.”

At the other extreme, Orthodox journalist Yedidya Meir of Radio Kol Chai, a former officer in the military rabbinate, complains in a bitterly sarcastic column on Ynet.com today (Hebrew only) that the secular elites want religious men to serve, but then don’t like the way they behave once they’re in uniform. Much of the General Staff, he writes, “is uncomfortable that the IDF no longer resembles the Palmach,” the socialist, kibbutz-based pre-state milita. He writes:

Ynet also has a powerful second-day news report, here in Hebrew and here in a severely truncated English version, reporting on reactions to the Zamir document. Much of it is devoted to an interview with Zamir’s predecessor, Maj. Gen. Eleazar Stern, an Orthodox Jew of famously liberal leanings. The headlines in the two editions, both quotes from Stern, tell you all you need to know about Israel’s schizophrenic identity struggle. The English headline reads: “Some people think army is yeshiva.” The Hebrew one reads: “Religious extremism? Zamir lit a bonfire and walked away.”

Ynet also quotes at length from the previous IDF chief rabbi, Brig. Gen. Avihai Rontzki, the author of much of the policy Zamir complains about. It’s worth quoting at length; it’s strong stuff, and much of it is missing from the English version (which appears to have lost a crucial sentence, making it sound like some key quotes are from Stern).

Rontzki began by responding to Zamir’s proposal that education on Jewish identity and Israel’s rights be transferred from the rabbinate back to the Education Corps:

Written by

J.J. Goldberg

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Demography as Destiny: Israel's Growing Right Shapes Law, Military

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