Opportunities and Backlash: Reforms in Women’s Military Service in Israel


Thursday, November 19, 2020, 12:00pm to 12:45pm


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Orna Sasson-Levy | Professor in the Department of Sociology and the Gender Studies Program, Bar-Ilan University, Israel

Establishing mandatory service for women in Israel in 1948 could signify gender equality; however, the military has maintained a rigid hierarchic gender division of labor for several decades. In the mid-1990s’, following Supreme Court rulings, several combat roles (including pilot course) were opened to women; the Women’s Corps was dismantled; and many courses were gender integrated. Sasson-Levy argues that these reforms had a dual effect: they broadened military opportunities for women, but at the same time led to a backlash of resistance that threatens these hard-won achievements and women’s equality in the military – and in society – in general.

In the first part of her lecture, Sasson-Levy asks how we can analyze the experience of serving in the variety of roles currently open to women from the point of view of soldiers from various intersectional groups. She proposes three new analytical concepts: multi-level formal and non-formal contracts between the woman soldier and the military; contrasting gendered experiences; and dis/acknowledging the military’s violence.

The second part examines the opposition to the reforms and argues that the struggle for integrating women in the military over the past two decades may be understood as a “battlefield” where various political forces clash: the courts, Jewish religious establishment, human rights and women’s organizations, retired officers, military human resource requirements, and the women themselves. The emotional intensity of this clash indicates that women’s service is metonymic of broader struggles between two contrasting cultural forces in Israel.