Can Young, Female, IDF Commanders Teach Americans About Real Feminism?
Four more young women have graduated Israeli’s elite 182nd combat pilot’s program. For security reasons the Israeli Air Force did not release their names, only a photograph. It shows these jet warriors confidently walking side-by-side, outfitted in their new flight suits and flight helmets after July’s graduation.
At least one of the grads went on to fly the Adir. That is Israeli’s version of the F-35 Lightning II, one of the most advanced stealth fighters ever built. She will not be the first pilot to win this honor. That happened last year to another woman whose name was not released. These striking Israeli jet jockeys are also not the first women of the IDF to achieve monumental milestones.
In 2015, Commander Or Cohen, then only 24, became the first woman to command an Israeli Naval vessel. “Working with people and protecting the country combines two things I love to do,” Cohen told Ynet News.
In 2020, Lieutenant Colonel Dana Ben-Ezra, 37, became the first female infantry battalion commander. “I’ve been serving my country for the last 17 years and of course I’m a proud Israeli,” said Ben-Ezra. Today, Ben-Ezra commands 800 men and women in uniform.
These are not isolated examples. Israeli women recently formed the first all-female tank crews. In 2018, another Israeli woman became the first ever to command an air squadron. Israeli women today also command intelligence bureaus and artillery battalions.
Israel was the first country on the planet to draft women. Women make up around 30% of all IDF soldiers and over 25% of its officers. Since 1962, 535 female Israeli soldiers have been killed in combat operations. This figure stands for the proposition that Israeli feminism in the IDF necessarily involves real costs, not only real benefits.
None of this is new. Jewish women in Israel have been leaders, heroines, and Jewish martyrs from the very beginning. Israeli women have stood toe-to-toe with men in combat as well as in support roles.
The photo of the recent grads from the 182nd combat pilot’s program is special to me. And not only because of the stunning image cut by these aviators. It is a study in contrasts.
While I have a general skepticism of all –isms, Israeli feminism seems real. Its women are powerful. They are productive. They get results. And they seem to lead happy lives. As the father of daughters, the achievements of young Jewish women in the IDF are moving. These women make us all proud.
By contrast, what can we say about the achievements of so-called “third-wave” feminists in the US? It seems like they are selling an altogether different product.
American Jewish third-wave feminists are not warriors. They do not face real, physical challenges like their IDF counterparts. While Israelis do their marching in the IDF, in the Negev, in the Golan, US Jewish feminists march on Washington. They hold hands with people like Linda Sarsour. With clenched fists and jaws they lament the patriarchy. I often wonder: is it the same patriarch that covers their college tuition or car payments?
Israeli feminism in the IDF encourages men and women to work together. They share responsibilities, battle plans, battlefields, missions, and risks. A Hamas rocket cannot tell the sex of its victim. The IDF fosters cooperation and respect between men and women. Their lives and safety might depend upon it someday.
Is this cooperation related in some way to the fact that Israeli women and men both report being among the happiest people in the world? They regularly score at the very top of every international survey, despite Israel’s many other challenges. Israeli Jewish women also appear to require about one-third as many anti-anxiety and antidepressant prescriptions per capita, as compared to US female counterparts.
Indeed, exactly 101 years after US women won the right to vote and three generations since the US women’s liberation movement, members of the American third-wave feminist movement seem very unhappy and very anxious. Their movement today seems to mint victims, not tank commanders and F-35 pilots. Many members say they have trouble trusting men and forming meaningful relationships. The second part shouldn’t be a surprise since all relationships require trust.
These set of conditions beg the question: Is third-wave feminism harmful to the mental well-being and future prospects of young Jewish women in America?
Nearly all -isms are problematic. They mean different things to different people. One has to work at understanding what someone means when they announce they are a “feminist.”
Yet there is definitely some version of a feminism that most of us can get behind. It would be a version that promotes equality of opportunity, respect between the sexes, and collaboration. If that is the case, there is a clear winner.
It is the muscular, competent, and effective Israeli version. It is the version that is humane and supportive – not hostile – to children and families. It is both beautiful and telling that in the IDF, millions of men and women have fallen in love and married life partners they met while in the ranks.
So I would say: Go east, young woman! Go east to Israel and grow up with the country. At least for a few years. Experience a feminism where young Jewish women thrive, and even command if that is what they want.