Is there a glass ceiling for Religious Zionist IDF officers?

The decision not to let Brigadier General Ofer Vinter advance could not have come at a worse time. Relations between the Religious Zionist community and the IDF are at a low not seen since the 2005 Gaza Disengagement.

Tzvi Lev, | updated: 08:30

Tzvi Lev
Tzvi Lev
INN:TL

IDF Chief of Staff Gadi Eizenkot’s decision last week not to promote Brigadier General Ofir Vinter caused pandemonium. Vinter, a graduate of the Eli pre-military academy and a prominent Religious Zionist, had seemed to be one of the military’s most promising officers, and it was not long before allegations spread that Vinter’s career was ground to a halt due to his observant lifestyle.

“Ofir Vinter was targeted solely because he wears a kippa,” stated journalist Boaz Golan, a longtime friend of Vinter’s. “There are not any professional considerations here.” Golan’s remarks were echoed by a slew of public figures and politicians, including MK Bezalel Smotrich, who accused Eizenkot of “wanting the General Staff free of kippot”.


Vinter possesses one of the most impressive resumes of any current IDF officer. He first drafted into the fabled Sayeret Matkal commando unit... transferred to the Maglan special forces unit and... participated in hundreds of operations behind enemy lines. Vinter went on to command the Givati Brigade’s Reconnaissance Battalion, the elite Duvdevan counterterror unit, and the Givati Brigade.
The allegations seem damning. Vinter possesses one of the most impressive resumes of any current IDF officer. He first drafted into the fabled Sayeret Matkal commando unit, where he served alongside current Jewish Home leader and Education Minister Naftali Bennett. After graduating from officer’s course, he transferred to the Maglan special forces unit and made a name for himself as a daring leader who participated in hundreds of operations behind enemy lines.

Vinter went on to command the Givati Brigade’s Reconnaissance Battalion, the elite Duvdevan  counterterror unit, and the Givati Brigade during 2014’s Protective Edge. It was during the aforementioned effort that Vinter first became controversial. During a battle order, Vinter wrote that his unit “was fighting an enemy which defiles our God,” words used by David against Goliath, and ended with the Jewish Shema prayer.

For his decision to invoke his Jewish faith, Vinter was lambasted by the Left, who alleged that he had attempted to convert his troops into following an observant Jewish lifestyle. Ever since that incident, Vinter’s career has stalled. Despite commanding the Givati Brigade with distinction, Vinter was not nominated to command a division, but instead became a glorified secretary for the Central Command. With Eizenkot’s decision to pass him over for promotion, his illustrious military career is likely over.

The decision not to let Vinter advance could not have come at a worse time. Relations between the Religious Zionist community and the IDF are at a low not seen since the 2005 Gaza Disengagement from Gush Katif when the IDF was used to expel 8000 Religious Zionists from their government- approved homes..

The army’s decision to crack down on exemptions allowing religious soldiers to grow a beard, the expansion of mixed-gender combat units, and a recent “Joint Service” order forcing observant officers to command mixed-gender units have all led certain segments of the National-Religious public to feel persecuted by the military.

However, others have pushed back at the accusations that the IDF is systematically ridding its ranks of kippa-wearing officers. Yediot Aharonot journalist Yossi Yehoshua, who is widely believed to have close access to high ranking officers, contended that the decision not to promote Vinter was made due to Vinter’s propensity to think outside the box and his tendency to not follow the army’s traditional way of doing things.

Other public figures agreed. “Brigadier General Ofir Vinter is being ousted from the army not because of his kippa, or because he’s a graduate of the premilitary academy in Eli. The “kippa” that the General Staff forum for promoting generals can’t accept is the fact that Vinter is the defiant antithesis of the years-long mentality of containment,” wrote Religious Zionist pioneer and Haaretz columnist Israel Harel.

“The main reason, which honors him, is related to his personality; a personality that on the battlefield doesn’t hesitate and doesn’t practice containment.”

Colonel (Reserve) Erez Viner, himself a member of the Religious Zionist community, added that “Vinter raised a lot of opposition because he is not traditional and routine.”

Was Vinter terminated due to his observant lifestyle? It’s hard to say. Mid-level officers, including some who served under him, told of managerial shortcomings. They spoke of a ferocious and creative warrior, yet one who left behind disorganized staff headquarters. These officers also pointed out Vinter’s failure to deal with cases of sexual misconduct in Givati while he stood at its head.

In addition, Vinter is not the only Infantry Brigade commander to have his career stall. Brigadier Generals Ghassan Alian and Guy Hazut, who led Golani and Kfir at the same time that Vinter led Givati, have also failed to earn promotions and are languishing as staff officers. Religious Zionist officers have also been part of the General Staff in the past, including current Yesh Atid MK Elazar Stern and former deputy Chief of Staff Yair Naveh, although they are not of Vinter's religious and right-wing ilk.

One thing is certain: The IDF’s senior leadership will soon be dominated by kippa-wearers. Over 50% of Brigade Commanders and 40% of those graduating officers school are members of the Religious Zionist community. Observant officers are increasingly filling the military’s most influential positions, such as Prime Minister Netanyahu’s military secretary Eliezer Tolendano and Commando Brigade head Avi Bluth.  Whatever happens with Vinter, it’s clear that Religious Zionism in the IDF is here to stay.



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