Politics & Policy

Stop Using Israel’s Example to Justify the Barbaric Practice of Drafting Women into Combat

Soldiers of the IDF’s Caracal Battalion train in 2014. (IDF/Flickr)

Like clockwork, whenever anyone at National Reviewincluding the editors — writes in opposition to opening all combat jobs to women or (even worse) drafting women into ground combat, there is predictable hue and cry from the Left. “But Israel! You conservatives couldn’t possibly be criticizing Israel, could you?” Perhaps the worst example comes from New York magazine, where writer Eric Levitz accuses NR of “anti-Jewish propaganda” and painting Israelis as “savagely cruel primitives” because our editors had the audacity to rightly label the proposal to draft mothers and daughters into ground combat “barbaric.”

Let’s be clear, National Review was decrying as “barbaric” the notion of drafting women into ground-combat roles. Drafting women into non-combat roles isn’t barbaric, it’s simply unnecessary. Against that backdrop, Levitz’s piece is sheer, unmitigated nonsense. It’s ahistorical idiocy.

When critics attempt to justify the Pentagon’s decision to open all combat jobs to women — or drafting women into those roles — by referring to the Israel Defense Forces, they’re betraying considerable ignorance. Israel’s history with women in combat is vastly overblown, its present policy is more restrictive than the Pentagon’s, and it’s in a fundamentally different strategic situation than the United States. To the extent there’s a valid comparison with the United States, Israel’s history should stand as a cautionary tale for American policy-makers.

Drafting women into non-combat roles isn’t barbaric, it’s simply unnecessary.

It is true that women fought as part of the Haganah, the Jewish militia that defended Jewish settlements during the struggle for survival prior to and following World War II. But, as outlined in a comprehensive paper for the School of Advanced Military Studies at Fort Leavenworth, this policy — born of desperate necessity as Jewish citizens defended their homes and villages from genocidal assaults — also showed the limits of gender-integrated units. Mixed-gender units had higher casualty rates, and Haganah commanders stopped using women in assault forces because “physically girls could not run as well — and if they couldn’t run fast enough, they could endanger the whole unit, so they were put in other units.”

Indeed, when the IDF was formally established, women were soon put into an “Auxiliary Corps.” When the IDF engaged trained Arab armies in some of the most vicious conventional combat engagements in the modern era, it did so with all-male combat units. As reported in the Leavenworth paper, Israeli prime minister David Ben-Gurion justified the changes with a statement of sheer common sense:

There is a fundamental difference between the Haganah and the IDF. Until November 1947, the Haganah was for local defense. There was a need to defend the place of settlement and the call to defense included everybody who was capable. But an army is a totally different thing. In war, an army’s main task is to destroy the enemy army — not just defend. When we protected the home with rifle in hand, there was no difference between boy and girl. Both could take shelter, and everything he knew — she knew. But in an army and in war, there is a reality of inequality in nature, and impossible to send girls to fighting units. Yet an army also needs non-combat units. And women are needed for appropriate professions to strengthen the nation’s fighting force by releasing men from those tasks for combat.

Since that time, while Israel has drafted women, it has restricted their role in combat, and it presently restricts their role even more than the United States. In an extended August 2015 report, the Jerusalem Post declared, “Despite some progress, most combat roles are closed to women in the IDF.” With much fanfare the IDF launched its Caracal Battalion in 2000, a mixed-gender force that largely patrols the border with Egypt, but the primary ground-combat role is still carried out by men. Critics of the IDF’s gender-integration policies call recent changes to expand women’s roles merely “symbolic.” Crucially, the Post reports that the IDF is unlikely to make further changes until a “court case” — not military judgment — forces it to do so. Indeed, the first major expansion of women’s roles in the IDF was due to a decision by the Israeli Supreme Court. In other words, Israel is beset with many of the same forms of gender politics as the United States.

EDITORIAL: Only a Barbaric Nation Drafts Its Mothers and Daughters into Combat

Finally, and crucially, even if Israel chooses — through court case or otherwise — to draft women into ground combat, it is in a fundamentally different strategic position than the United States. With approximately 73 million military-aged males in the United States, there is no foreseeable strategic challenge that would require the U.S. to start drafting women (into combat or otherwise) to meet its national-security needs, even in a time of crisis. Israel, with a tiny population surrounded by much larger, hostile neighbors, could very well find itself waging the kind of desperate war for survival that would require every able-bodied adult to wield a rifle.

It’s dangerous enough for the U.S. to impair combat effectiveness and endanger soldiers for the sake of satisfying feminists’ unreasonable and unrealistic demands, but it would indeed be barbaric to then take the next step of potentially conscripting women into a bloody social-justice crusade. Israel — in spite of facing far worse strategic emergencies than the United States — has not taken that step, and cheerleaders for American military decline cannot be permitted to justify their own foolishness through its example.

David French is a senior writer for National Review, a senior fellow at the National Review Institute, and a veteran of Operation Iraqi Freedom.

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