The story that I brought to you on Friday regarding the new limitations on Hesder army service has (finally) been picked up by Ynet.
Reader/Cousin Yaacov hit the nail on the head with his important clarifications, but there is apparently more to the story. Under a program spearheaded by General Elazar Stern, the army has been trying for some two years already to “integrate” Hesder students into “regular” platoons. Until then, Hesderniks, or in the army parlance, Beinishim, served in homogeneous platoons, composed only of other Hesderniks.
To eliminate any ambiguity, Hesderniks can still serve in Golani and the Paratroops, but by doing so, they relinquish their “right” to serve in a homogeneous Hesder platoon, and must serve in an integrated platoon. The reason for the singling out of Golani and Paratroops given by a senior army official in the Ynet article: as it is, motivation to serve in these two brigades is high, and there would be no problem filling the platoons. In other words, even Hesderniks want to serve in Golani and Paratroops so badly, that they would have no problem serving in an integrated platoon. Many Hesderniks think otherwise and have sent a petition with hundreds of signatures to Chief of Staff Gabi Ashkenazi.
The army’s motivation for ending a 30 year tradition of homogeneous Hesder platoons does seem a bit dubious. The commonly invoked rationalization that the army needs to be a melting pot and integrated experience holds true, from personal experience, even when Hesderniks have their own platoon.
A few years ago, I had occasion to sit down with General Stern and ask him a few questions about his planned changes to the Hesder system. Stern, though religious, did not go to Hesder and went through his army service as one of the few (if only) religious soldiers in his company. I think that this important biographical piece of information sheds light on where Stern is coming from. I asked him, from a logistical perspective, what happens when you scatter all of the religious soldiers among the three platoons that are in each company. Each platoon has a different time schedule. What happens if the religious soldiers from one platoon go the synagogue and start praying, and only 20 minutes later, the religious soldiers from another platoon are given time to pray? With a homogeneous platoon of Hesderniks, everyone prays together! Stern answered without flinching: They should pray outside of the synagogue.
I’m all for integration. But there was nothing wrong with the status quo that warranted such drastic changes.