I’m probably paraphrasing badly, but someone once told me that the true sign of a liberal is that will stand for anyone’s belief – as long they agree they should have it. In other words, freedom of expression does not apply for those who differ from you. I would hope that is not true for all (who claim to be) proponents of civil liberties and freedom of speech, but it certainly seems to be the case when it comes to the criticism of religious soldiers in the IDF.
A few weeks ago, in an event marking the brigade’s performance in Operation Cast Lead, a group of religious, observant paratroopers left the event, in order to avoid listening to a woman singer. This was not out of protest, but because their belief is that halacha forbids for men to listen to a woman singing.
In response, the IDF chief education officer, Brigadier-General (tat-aluf) Gen. Eli Shermeister, “called the incident a ‘worrisome phenomenon’ that ‘should not be accorded continued legitimacy.'” Why should religious practices be delegitimized, according to an officer in the army of the Jewish state? Because allowing participants to leave an event “designed to foster group cohesion” would “defeat the purpose” of such an event. I don’t understand, if group cohesion is so important, wouldn’t an event acceptable to all members of the group be best suited to achieve such a goal?
Mordechai Keidar, in an opinion piece in Ynet, hits the nail on the head, “In a liberal state with free media, I would expect open and innovative thinking that would show tolerance to different people.” Where is this is tolerance?
Dr. Esther Herzog does not agree (Hebrew). She attributes “gross and ugly contempt exhibited by [Keidar’s] column towards the secular culture and educational system, that points more to ignorance and close-mindedness than to openness and cultural-social sensitivity.” How is she able to say that with a straight face? The only ones who exhibited a lack of sensitivity and close-mindedness here are those who dare to say that religious soldiers should not be permitted to practice religion.
Herzog continues, in essence calling Judaism chauvinistic, mischaracterizing the soldiers’ actions as “boycotting women.” She claims that accusing the secular community of a lack of values is a smokescreen for “discrimination, deprivation, and exploitation of women.” The differences between the religious and secular communities are much more than gender-based, and by characterizing everything she does not like as sexual discrimination, Herzog is crying wolf, and badly.
Keidar’s accusation that “a cultural vacuum [has been] imparted to a whole generation of young people by the secular education system” because of its “drugs, alcohol, promiscuity, and the club culture,” is one that needs to be addressed, not deflected. It needs to be examined, for secular need not mean value-less, and should not mean anti-religious, either. And if Israel is really the “liberal state” it claims to be, then freedoms need to be accorded even to those with whom IDF event planners disagree.