I wonder how many people are aware of the fact that Israel is the only country in the world which practices a collective draft for women. Women can serve, by choice, in many countries, but only in Israel do 16-year-old highschool girls get a letter from the army that sets the cogs in motion for their tests and paperwork and subsequent entry into the ranks of the army at the age of 18.
Granted, only a few of the girls end up in combat units. Nobody can be forced into a combat unit, not even men. After learning to use a gun and crawl in the mud, most of the women who serve are shipped off to peaceful, often boring, and sometimes even borderline useless jobs. Thus they spend (or should I say squander?) two years. All for the sake of equality.
(Side note: a girl who wants to wriggle out of the army can do it easily enough, if she knows the right way. Girls who come from religious homes are safe. But everyone get the letter from the army. The default is that everyone must serve. If you didn't serve, you had better have an adequate explanation for it later, when applying for a job, or in social situations.).
Many foreigners assume that since (a) Israeli women are required to go to the army, and (b) the IDF is an efficient, modern, well-adapted army, then it is a matter of course that (a) causes (b). I have actually read in several foreign forums an outcry that goes, "the Israeli army is one of the best in the world, and it drafts women - this means we, too, should have more women in the army!" - this logic is faulty. The few women who push themselves into combat units, the air forces, etc, are celebrated by the liberal-minded, but the overall quality of the unit is not improved by them. Where physical power still plays an advantage, standards are inevitably lowered to enable women to enter. And the girls who are basically sent out of the way to boring office jobs "because Israel's army is the people's army and everyone must serve their country" create a hugely inflated, ineffective, costly bureaucratic mechanism.
I have been saying this for years to anyone who would listen, and so I rejoiced to read the words of Rabbi Eliezer Melamed, published in his weekly column last weekend (abridged translation from Hebrew is, as usual, mine): "According to high-ranking military officials, it would be possible to give up around 30% of soldiers who hold office jobs, without their absence being felt, but in order to enforce the "people's army" model, superfluous jobs are invented especially for them.
The problem really is a serious one; it is a pity none of the experts dealing with it proposed a simple solution to a great part of it - doing away with the collective draft for women. As strange as it may sound, Israel is the only country in the world where women serve in the army by default. It appears the only reason Israeli women must serve in the army is the firm belief in equality of sexes. [emphasis mine]
The present situation costs the government a lot of money, both because many of the women in the army are in a position of hidden unemployment, and because these two years of service cause a delay in education, work and marriage. Of course, there are women who hold important positions in the army, but they can do paid service, without all the women serving along with them.
My note: I believe (and so, I conclude from his other articles, does Rabbi Melamed) that the army isn't really a place for women. However, I am far from imposing my beliefs on anyone. I only hope (and that is much to hope for, I know) that the leaders of our country do the sensible thing and stop summoning 18-year-old girls to a mostly useless service meant to promote a twisted ideology, which was set up by the same people who believed the ideal way for children to be raised is in communal "children's homes" in kibbutzim.
Rabbi Melamed also fleetingly mentions the lack of modest behavior in the army, and the sexual harrassment that is so prevalent there. I won't even get started on this because I will then keep writing all night, and I can't do that!
One last thing: there is a myth often dragged out to justify drafting Israeli women into the army. It is said we must do this because our country's safety is often in such a precarious position. This is a very emotional argument, and very effective in silencing objections to women serving in the army, but it doesn't stand the test of reason. Many girls who serve in the army spend two years goofing off. In the case of emergency, it's not those girls who will be handed guns, but reserve soldiers. Women in the Israeli army are entirely dispensable and the collective draft law is nothing but a relic of the communist ideology this country's founders brought into the Middle East.