Major-General (res.) Elazar Stern said Thursday that the IDF should differentiate between soldiers killed in active duty and those killed in accidents or by illness. Stern, the former head of IDF manpower, took an opposite stance from current head of manpower Major-General Avi Zamir, who said that all fallen or wounded soldiers should be treated equally.
"We need to do everything necessary for a soldier in mandatory service. Even if he got sick, or was hurt, even if he was on leave,” Zamir argued.
Stern argued that by showing equal respect to soldiers killed in accidents, the IDF belittles the contribution of those who fell in combat. “What bothers me is when a father says, 'My son was killed in combat, and he's buried next to a soldier who drove like a maniac and killed himself and a passenger,'” he declared. Such cases are not rare, he added.
"We have to maintain the sanctity of the military graveyard,” he said.
If the IDF continues to honor soldiers who die of causes unrelated to their military service, it will affect the public respect for fallen soldiers, he argued. “In fifty years, children from Ramat Gan, Tel Aviv, and Ramat Hasharon will not lay flags on the graves in the military cemetery, because they'll see that this one committed suicide and this one died in a traffic accident,” he said.
Stern's example was taken by some as a slur on residents of central Israel, who are frequently perceived as being more likely to evade combat service in the IDF. Stern, a founding resident of the religious Zionist Galilee outpost Hoshaya, fought the exemptions from army service given to singers and entertainers. He was known for his outspoken views and non conventional ideas, including opposition to the Hesder program that alternates army service with Yeshiva learning for five years. He favored breaking up the homogeneous Hesder army units, not allowing Hesder soldiers to be able to serve in Golani and Paratroop units due to their shorter service, fought for the discharge of Hanael Dayan, the soldier who refused, at the ceremony where he was to receive the outstanding soldier award, to shake the Chief of Staff's hand after the disengagement.