Ariella Ringel-Hoffman • Yedioth Ahronoth (op-ed)
Translation: Didi Remez • Coteret.com
Eighty percent of Israelis (Jews above the age of 18) are not concerned by the growing number of Orthodox officers in the IDF. Eighty-two percent support the continued existence of a separate Nahal unit for Haredi soldiers and 70 percent believe the IDF should take the special needs of Orthodox soldiers into consideration. Average Israelis, the numbers seem to suggest, are not threatened [by the phenomenon]. Or, at least according to the wording of Prof. Stuart Cohen, senior lecturer in political science at Bar Ilan University and an expert in IDF relations with Israeli society, they are “at ease” with the phenomenon.
At the same time, one-third of those asked said they believed that many Orthodox officers would refuse orders to evict residents from settlements or outposts in the West Bank. In other words, every third Israeli expects to a large degree to see soldiers refuse to carry out eviction orders, if and when such orders are issued. Fifty-six percent believe that only a few soldiers would refuse such orders, and 10 percent believe that no Orthodox officers would refuse.
The statistics were released ahead of today’s conference “Religious and Secular in the IDF - The Challenge,” to held this afternoon at Bar Ilan University. The interesting thing about the poll is the gap between the public’s faith in Orthodox officers, expressed in widespread support for continued drafting of Haredi soldiers and the creation of special conditions to ease their time in the army (kosher food, Sabbath observance, maintaining an IDF rabbinate, appropriate mixing between male and female soldiers) and the suspicion of the same soldiers that many say proudly would refuse to comply with military orders that clashed with their religious beliefs.
In this context, by the way, it is no less interesting to note the fact that left-wing and centrist respondents tend to believe that the number of refusers would be low, whereas those who identified with the right side of the political map predicted the number would be higher.
How does widespread support for Orthodox officers jive with worries about their behavior? Perhaps because it rests on the clear knowledge this is the best alternative for quality officers in the army? That leftists and centrists can’t hold a candle to them? That people who envision sending their kids to the IDF Computer Corps have no moral right to argue with officers sitting on the front lines? That you cannot suspect and act against a community that the country depends on for its role in the defense of this country, despite the worry that ultimately their loyalty could be contingent? Perhaps because in our collective memory, the only example of eviction we have—the 2005 withdrawal from the Gaza Strip—yielded virtually no instances of refusal?
Professor Yigal Levy, a senior lecturer at the Open University, claims that the dominance of Orthodox officers could influence decision-makers into not making certain decisions like evicting residents from illegal outposts, to say nothing of evacuating settlements, in order to prevent a clash with IDF officers. Really? In the army there are those who say a prime minister’s considerations, and especially the current one who was elected by the right wing, will focus on public reaction to any decision long before and way more than he will worry about wide-scale insubordination.
To sum up, the poll shows two things: One, that the Israeli public is very accepting of changes occurring in the hegemonies of the IDF. And two, that the Israeli public, a completely functional way, is amazingly tolerant of the dilemma this raises, however real or imagined they may be. The public accepts the army’s working assumption that an Orthodox officer will lead his troops into a settlement to evict the residents with the same determination (and sensitivity) that a secular officer would. That today, there is no basis for the claim that an Orthodox officer would act differently than expected of him. Because of that, there is no need to consider the kippa under the beret when considering IDF manpower needs.