Defence Minister Ehud Barak and Chief of Staff Benny Gantz shared a joke about female soldiers participating in a military exercise “to sing during break time,” with Barak tipping Gantz about a ministry employee who can “sing without her uniform”. The IDF then tried to block reports of the joke.
Censorship and limitations on freedom of speech have spiked in Israel over the past year, but this appears to be a new record: The Defence Ministry and IDF Spokesman intervened to censor reports of a sexist joke shard by Defence Minister Ehud Barak and Chief of Staff Benny Gantz. The two were supervising a military exercise in the Golan Heights and were caught on tape having the following, um, humorous exchange:
Ehud Barak: “Who are the girls? Are they from the battalion? The [Golani] division?”
Benny Gantz: “They sing during break time.”
Ehud Barak: “There’s Dana here from the minister’s media [office]. She’s from a moshav, she can sing.. without her uniform.”
Gantz (to Army Radio reporter): “Army Radio! This incident is not to be broadcast. Even if this is the scoop of your lifetime, it stays on your tape.” (to the cameraman filming the event): “Nir! This applies to you as well. Otherwise it’ll be your last report and it’ll be a pity. The last report, you know, like the last war.. [paraphrasing an anti-war song] I promise you it’ll be the last report.”
Even before getting round to the Berlusconi-rate crude and sexist remark about Barak’s staff member singing without her uniform, two top men of the Israeli military establishment managed to hit upon two highly sensitive issues. The IDF has been relentlessly and very publicly driving to include more female soldiers in combatant roles in its ranks, not least under pressure from centrist-feminist politicians and organisations, which would explain the presence of “the girls” at the maneuvres. And, of course, most recently the same IDF has been seized by an ongoing controversy regarding the refusal of Jewish-orthodox soldiers to be present when female soldiers sing. Prominent settler rabbi Eliyakim Lebanon announced last month that a soldier should prefer to be killed than hear a woman sing; he later relented to say they could also use earplugs, thus producing one of the most starkly polarised religious rulings in recent memory (Death! ..Or earplugs!). When Gantz was approached for comment about these profoundly sexist remarks, he courageously mumbled that he “didn’t like them,” and took no further action.
All this would be bad enough, but according to YNET, the defence ministry and the IDF spokesman’s office then followed up on Gantz’s warnings to the reporters and approached the media organisations covering the exercise (including some foreign ones), demanding they don’t broadcast or report the remarks. YNET’s publication of the entire affair as their main headline, using Reuters and Channel 10 materials, can hopefully be interpreted as the only journalistically ethical response to such a request – showing the IDF a big, bold-type finger. Their courage should be praised.