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Mks Object to Bill Excusing Women from Army if They Say They’re Religious

A storm of opposition was unleashed in the Knesset today over a government-sponsored bill that would exempt young women from military service on religious grounds, simply on their own say so. The bill, one of the concessions exacted from Premier Menachem Begin by the ultra-Orthodox Aguda bloc as the price for their support of his coalition, would abolish the screening panels which investigate whether a woman claiming exemption is, in fact, observant.

MK Ora Namir, of the Labor Alignment, charged that the Defense Ministry has already begun to implement the measure although it has not been passed by the Knesset. She said that such action undermines respect for the law. Shulamit Aloni, leader of the Civil Rights Movement (CRM) produced a document prepared by three Aguda rabbis warning young women to avoid military service lest they become prostitutes. Aguda MKs denied responsibility for the document and charged Aloni with anti-Semitism. Aloni declared, “Either military service is compulsory for all or optional for all.”

Meir Payil of the Sheli faction stressed the important role played by women in the armed services as teachers, nurses and in other non-combat assignments. “The army cannot afford an 18-33 percent increase in the number of women exempted from service when it already suffers an acute shortage of manpower, “he said. Amnon Rubinstein, of the Democratic Movement for Change (DMC), said the proposed bill would create a situation in which only women from old established families would serve, in contradiction to the army’s traditional function as a social melting pot. He said that under the measure, even if a woman’s statements are found to be false, nothing can be done because it stipulates no further examination.

Replying for the government, Deputy Defense Minister Mordechai Zipori said that women claiming exemption an religious grounds were being given deferments, not exemptions, pending the Knesset’s disposal of the bill. The matter was referred to the Knesset’s Foreign Affairs and Security Committee.

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