Defense Minister Ehud Barak and IDF chief of staff Benny Gantz stepped on a political landmine Tuesday when they were caught joking while female soldiers sang at a social event.
Barak: "Who are these girls? From the battalion? The brigade? The division?
Gantz: "They sing on breaks."
Barak: "There is Dana from the Minister's office. She can sing without a uniform. It would be better."
A video capturing the exchange shows Gantz trying to prevent its publication. Turning to an Army Radio reporter he says, "Army Radio, this is not being broadcast. Even if it's once-in-a-lifetime scoop – it stays on your tape."
Gantz then turned to a Channel 2 reporter saying: "The same goes for you. Otherwise, it will be your last story. Let this not be the last story, like in the last war. I promise you it will be the last story."
The leading defense officials' faux pax comes amid tensions between feminist activists and religious soldiers over mandatory attendance at IDF social events where female soldiers sing for entertainment.
The majority view among halakhic decisors accepted as the norm in religious communities is that men are not permitted to listen to women singing because kol isha – a woman's voice – is generally considered erotic.
Some secular IDF commanders have made social events where women sing - rather than solemn and ceremonial occasions - mandatory as a means of weeding religious officer candidates out of training programs claiming the events serve to "enhance unit cohesion."
The growing number of religious men in the IDF – especially in the officer ranks – has been seen as a threat to the traditional center-left secular hegemony over Israel's military. It has also been seen as a threat to feminist agendas to increase the participation of women in combat arms.
Recent studies have revealed women undergoing normal combat training suffer more spinal injuries and stress fractures than their male counterparts, leading some generals who championed incorporating women into IDF combat arms to say it is time to reevaluate the decision.
A recent bill proposed in the Knesset would grant religious soldiers in the IDF the right to opt out of social events - but not solemn and ceremonial events - where women sing on "grounds of conscience."
Barak and Gantz have taken a hard-line stance in regards to enforcing attendance at social events amid media furor over religious soldiers refusing to attend on religious grounds.
It is unclear how Barak and Gantz's attendance at today's event - and jokes - will aid in developing “unit cohesion" in the IDF.