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Women in the Israeli Military

Lawrence Bush
September 4, 2017

Orna Barbivay, who in 2011 became the first woman in Israel’s history to become a major general, the second highest rank in the Israeli armed services, was born to Jewish immigrants from Iraq and Romania on this date in 1962. According to Jodi Rudoren in the New York Times, Barbivay spent “34 years of often being the first woman to occupy a particular position in a testosterone-driven institution, the last three as the lone woman to join the elite circle of the twenty who make up the ‘general staff’ that runs it. Another reality is that General Barbivai spent her ceiling-shattering career in the pink ghetto of personnel, underscoring the complexity of gender in what is commonly seen as the world’s most integrated military. ‘When I sit in an auditorium and I turn my head back, all I see is men, in front of me and behind me,’ she said.” Israel is the only nation in the world with a gender-neutral draft, but only 57 percent of women draftees serve, compared with 73 percent of male draftees. “Though 92 percent of positions are open to women, a scant 2.9 percent of female service members were in combat roles in 2013, making up 4.3 percent of combat troops,” writes Rudoren. “Among reservists -- a huge part of the force that fought in Gaza -- 8 percent are female.” Nevertheless, more than half of the country’s officers are women (by comparison, 17 percent of military officers in the U.S. are women).

“The strength of our military is not just our ability to draft the best, but also the weaker elements of our society, people who didn’t graduate from high school, new immigrants. For me it’s a way to close the loop for myself, as a person who grew up in the periphery.” --Orna Barbivay

​​​​Lawrence Bush edited Jewish Currents from 2003 until 2018. He is the author of Bessie: A Novel of Love and Revolution and Waiting for God: The Spiritual Explorations of a Reluctant Atheist, among other books. His new volume of illustrated Torah commentaries, American Torah Toons 2, is scheduled for publication this year.