The list of new appointments to the expanded IDF General Staff forum reveal that the last two top officers wearing knitted yarmulkes in the expanded forum are being replaced, Srugim reported Saturday night, suggesting this may be borne by the military’s attitude toward Religious Zionism.
It appears the friction between Religious Zionism and the IDF’s supreme command is no coincidence. In recent years, the knitted yarmulkes, which fill the junior and middle echelons of the IDF, have not been promoted to the senior command of the army, according to Srugim.
Three months ago, the website published an official group picture of the General Staff with President Reuven Rivlin at the President’s Residence. Of the 24 high-ranking officers of the expanded General Staff forum—seven of them with the rank of Brigadier General and Colonel—only two wore knitted yarmulkes: the military secretary of the Prime Minister, Brig. Gen. Eliezer Toledano, and the economic advisor to the Chief of Staff, Brigadier General Sasson Hadad.
In the last round of appointments, these two officers will also be replaced.
On Thursday, Defense Minister Avigdor Liberman approved Chief of Staff Lt. Gen. Gadi Eizenkot’s recommendation to appoint Brigadier General Ariella Lazarovitz as economic advisor to the Chief of Staff and to head of the budget department at the Defense Ministry. She will be promoted to the rank of Brigadier General and will be the only woman in the General Staff forum – replacing General Hadad.
At the same time, Brig. Gen. Toledano, who was appointed Commander of the Gaza Division, will leave his position as Netanyahu’s Military Secretary, a replacement for which is yet to be announced.
In the past year and a half, there has been a growing resentment in the religious sector over what looked like a culture war the IDF has been waging war against the ranks of knitted yarmulkes. There was the order to shave beards; increased integration of women in combat units; and the promotion by the High Command of the Education Corps at the expense of the Military Rabbinate regarding “Jewish awareness.”
According to Tzav Echad, a group dedicated to improving the service conditions of religious soldiers (the name means, roughly, same draft order), there are “hundreds of documented cases of denial of soldiers’ rights or incorrect treatment of the Jewish faith, such as a shortage of tefillin, non-kosher food being served on IDF bases, soldiers who were forced to visit sites they are religiously prohibited to enter, and the order to shave beards.”
The IDF stated in response: “The IDF does not distinguish between those who wear skullcaps and those who do not. All the officers who dedicate their lives to the security mission are being chosen according to their suitability for the job. The attempt to ‘count yarmulkes’ is inappropriate and even outrageous.”
And yet, while Religious Zionist soldiers comprise about 30% of combat soldiers and 40% of officer school graduates, their numbers in the high positions appear to be shrinking. Combined with a new age restriction on officer school applications that appear to single out the older, Hesder Yeshiva graduates, and one might be tempted to conclude that the official outrage at “yarmulke counting” is not enough to mask the IDF’s anti-religious agenda.