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Why Israeli Soldiers Were Forbidden From Singing "Hatikvah"

Why Israeli Soldiers Were Forbidden From Singing "Hatikvah"

Israelis love to sing.

We are suckers for the annual Eurovision song contest, and are fiercely proud of Israel having won three times, including for the 1978 iconic, gibberish song “A-Bah-Nee-Bee.”

We love to get together to sing Israeli folk songs, a cultural phenomenon called “shirah b’tzibbur” (“communal singing”).

Military singing troupes, which include both men and women, entertain our troops and perform at many official events.

Last month, a group of three female soldiers was invited to sing at an IDF base for 300 soldiers. Fifteen male soldiers wearing kippot walked out of the concert, claiming their religious beliefs forbid them from listening to women sing. This should have been the end of the story, but it wasn’t. After two numbers, the commanding officer told the group they could not continue their performance. They were asked to get off the stage just as they were about to sing "Hatikvah."

You read it right - Israeli soldiers in uniform were forbidden from singing the national anthem at an army event.

Back in 2012, following several incidents of Orthodox soldiers walking out on female singers, the IDF issued a statement clarifying that soldiers will not be excused from official ceremonies and state events for this reason. Religious soldiers can ask their commanding officer to be excused only from informal military events, such as performances for entertainment. Nothing in the statement calls for canceling performances or silencing female singers.


Our legal team immediately wrote to the IDF's Chief of Staff, the Women’s Affairs Adviser, and the Head of Personnel, to demand that the military reprimand this commander, reaffirm its 2012 position on female singers, and clarify to all IDF commanders and officers that this kind of behavior is unacceptable.

We await the army’s response to this letter, and to another recent letter requesting information about the number of female singers invited to perform at official military ceremonies. We are keeping close tabs on these numbers to make sure the army is not keeping women off the stage.

This is not the first time we are fighting for the rights of women to use their voices in public. Only recently, we won an arduous battle against an Israeli public radio station that refused to broadcast female voices. The claim that women’s voices are dangerous weapons that must be silenced is outrageous. It should not be tolerated in any setting, especially not in the IDF.

Women serve proudly in Israel’s military and will continue to do so, side by side with their male counterparts. There is no room for discrimination. It is humiliating to women. It silences 50% of the voices we want to hear. It is demeaning to us all.

It's time for the IDF to change its tune.

Anat Hoffman is the executive director of the Israel Religious Action Center, the public and legal advocacy arm of the Reform Jewish Movement in Israel. She is also the chairwoman of Women of the Wall, a group of Jewish women and men from around the world who strive to achieve the right of women to wear prayer shawls, pray, and read from the Torah collectively and out loud at the Western Wall in Jerusalem.

Anat Hoffman
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