Logo of Phnom Penh Post newspaper Phnom Penh Post - Israeli army battling over by-law on beards



Israeli army battling over by-law on beards

Content image - Phnom Penh Post
Bar Pinto (right) and Gilad Levi – founders of ‘Beard Exemptions for All’, a campaign challenging Israeli military rules compelling all male troops to be clean shaven – pose for a photo in Tel Aviv last month. AFP

Israeli army battling over by-law on beards

Israel’s military is facing a challenge on the home front unrelated to traditional threats against the Jewish state: it’s over facial hair, and activists say the army’s future is at stake.

Bar Pinto and Gilad Levi, two red-bearded 29-year-olds, have founded “Beard Exemptions for All” (“Ptor Zakan Lekulam” in Hebrew), a campaign challenging Israeli military rules compelling all male troops to be clean-shaven.

Pinto and Levi have taken issue with a system that grants exemptions to that rule on religious grounds, while the faces of secular troops must remain smooth.

They argue this exacerbates tensions within the ranks.

“There is an obvious discrimination between religious and secular,” Pinto said.

“It’s not legal,” Levi added.

Military duty at age 18 is mandatory in Israel, with young men compelled to serve for nearly three years and women for two.

But increasing numbers are seeking exemptions, citing psychological conditions and other factors as grounds to avoid service.

Minister of Defence Benny Gantz recently said that more than half of young Israelis were not serving in the military.

Pinto and Levi said they view military service as a sacred part of Israeli citizenship, but that with the army struggling to attract young people, rigid rules governing facial hair are counterproductive.

Content image - Phnom Penh Post
An Israeli soldier reloads a Merkava Mark 4 battle tank near the Syrian border on February 4. Israel’s military is facing a challenge on the home-front unrelated to the traditional threats against the Jewish state – it’s over facial hair. AFP

“We want the army to focus on what really matters: investing time and resources to defend the country,” not the facial hair of its soldiers, said Pinto.

“Why complicate the lives of these young men who are making an effort to serve their country and give the best years of their lives?”

Beard Exemptions for All is bolstered by a nearly 4,000-member Facebook group, an online video campaign and merchandise, including T-shirts and stickers featuring the army’s logo, branded with a beard.

Secular vs. religious

Israeli army rules state that “all soldiers are required to shave their faces”.

But Pinto and Levi charge that there is discrimination in how that rule is enforced.

Exemptions may be granted to men who adhere to Jewish religious rulings against shaving.

Others who claim that their beard forms an essential part of their identity are also entitled to an exemption, but Pinto said he had heard stories from “thousands” of secular soldiers whose request for an exemption had been denied.

A group of 17 soldiers who agree with that assertion filed a supreme court petition in January seeking to force the army to grant exemptions to anyone who makes a request.

Levi said 1,600 troops had contributed money from their own pockets to fund the legal challenge, which had so far raised 120,000 shekels ($36,000).

Facial hair, they argued, is crucial to many young Israeli men, regardless of their level of devoutness.

“Religious and secular are brothers in arms, we live together in this country,” Pinto said. “Beards should not be an issue that divides us.”

MOST VIEWED

  • Phnom Penh placed in two-week lockdown

    The government has decided to place Phnom Penh in lockdown for two weeks, effective April 14 midnight through April 28, as Cambodia continues to grapple with the ongoing community outbreak of Covid-19, which has seen no sign of subsiding. According to a directive signed by Prime Minister

  • Cambodia on the verge of national tragedy, WHO warns

    The World Health Organisation (WHO) in Cambodia warned that the country had reached another critical point amid a sudden, huge surge in community transmission cases and deaths. “We stand on the brink of a national tragedy because of Covid-19. Despite our best efforts, we are

  • Hun Sen: Stay where you are, or else

    Prime Minister Hun Sen warned that the two-week lockdown of Phnom Penh and adjacent Kandal provincial town Takmao could be extended if people are not cooperative by staying home. “Now let me make this clear: stay in your home, village, and district and remain where

  • Businesses in capital told to get travel permit amid lockdown through One Window Service

    The Phnom Penh Municipal Administration has issued guidelines on how to get travel permission for priority groups during the lockdown of Phnom Penh, directing private institutions to apply through the municipality's One Window Service and limit their staff to a mere two per cent. In

  • Vaccination open to foreigners in Cambodia

    The Ministry of Health on April 8 issued an announcement on Covid-19 vaccination for foreigners residing and working in Cambodia, directing the Ministry of Labour and Vocational Training and local authorities to register them. Health minister Mam Bun Heng, who is also head of the inter-ministerial

  • Ministry names types of business permitted amid lockdown

    The Ministry of Labour and Vocational Training singled out 11 types of business that are permitted to operate during the lockdown of Phnom Penh and Takmao town, which run through April 28. Those include (1) food-processing enterprises and slaughterhouses; (2) providers of public services such as firefighting, utility and