Chief of Staff in IDF Radio studio
Chief of Staff in IDF Radio studioIsrael news photo: Flash 90

The ruling coalition will discuss Monday whether the IDF may issue an order allowing the employment of soldiers in the IDF Radio station on Sabbaths. The debate is expected to be stormy, with members from Shas, United Torah Judaism, the Jewish Home and part of the Likud poised to object strenuously to the idea.

The matter was supposed to be discussed in a meeting planned for Thursday between MK Uri Ariel (National Union) and three representatives from the defense establishment: Minister Shalom Simchon, who is a close ally of Defense Minister Ehud Barak; Barak's Head of Staff, Yoni Koren, and IDF Radio Commander Yitzchak Tunik. However, the meeting was surprisingly called off Wednesday by the Defense Ministry.

In response to the cancellation, MK Ariel turned to Coalition Chairman MK Ze'ev Elkin (Likud), who promised that he would place the matter on the agenda for the coming weekly coalition session.

IDF Radio is a military station that employs civilians as well as IDF officers, NCOs and soldiers in mandatory service. It broadcasts seven days a week, 24 hours a day. Soldiers are employed in the station on Sabbaths, in apparent contravention of military orders that forbid employing a mandatory-service soldier on Jewish holy days in any role that is not essential for security.

In 2008, the Legal Forum for the Land of Israel petitioned the High Court and asked it to instruct the Minister of Defense and the Chief of Staff to forbid the employment of mandatory-service soldiers in the station on Sabbaths and holidays. In response to the petition, it was recently reported, IDF jurists prepared a new General Staff Basic Order that would allow the station to use mandatory-service soldiers on Sabbaths and holidays. A final draft of the order has been handed to Chief of Staff Gabi Ashkenazi for signing.

This news led MK Ariel to ask that the coalition discuss the subject in a meeting in early June. However, after Minister Simchon asked to meet with him, he agreed to postpone the move. Now that the Defense Ministry has abruptly canceled the meeting, Ariel is once again taking it to the coalition.

"The fact that the Defense Ministry and the IDF are planning to approve an order that would force soldiers to violate the Sabbath under orders is a grave blow to the army's character to date, and to the feelings of the religious public in general,” Ariel explained. “I tried to discuss the matter with the Defense Minister and his bureau staff, but they apparently prefer evasion,” he added.