Shahaf Ben-Yakov, a female combat soldier, is part of Pride Blue and White, a new group of women and LGBT officers that aims to speak out for diversity within the Israeli army and push back against growing religious influence on the powerful Israeli institution.
Shahaf Ben-Yakov (Courtesy of Pride in Blue and White)
Shahaf Ben-Yakov always found it maddening when her ability as a combat soldier was questioned just because of her gender.
Nonetheless, she dismissed as nonsense the notion that army service “has driven our girls crazy” — as a rabbi who runs a pre-military academy in the Eli settlement claimed in a speech broadcast on Israeli television Tuesday night, hours ahead of International Women’s Day.
Although Rabbi Yigal Levinstein’s comments have since been widely condemned by Israeli government officials, including Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, Ben-Yakov said they would still have an effect.
“The army was the first time I realized not everyone saw me as equal, and I needed to prove myself and fight for my rights as a woman,” Ben-Yakov told JTA. “It begins with people like Rabbi Levinstein, who have enormous influence. If they say what a woman can’t do in the army, this is what the young soldiers will think. It’s very simple.”
Ben-Yakov, 25, is part of a new group of women and LGBT officers that aims to speak out for diversity within the Israeli army and push back against growing religious influence on the powerful Israeli institution. The group, Pride in Blue and White, last week launched a crowdfunding campaign to support what it said would be the first army preparatory courses and mentoring programs specifically for female and LGBT youth.
The ultimate goal of the campaign — called Israeli Pride Times Two – is to double the number of women in combat positions and the number of openly LGBT soldiers in the Israeli army.