Israel's army chief under fire about God

Reuters News
Posted: Jun 27, 2011 12:09 PM
Israel's army chief under fire about God

By Allyn Fisher-Ilan

JERUSALEM (Reuters) - The Israeli military is embroiled in a public battle over whether God ought to be mentioned at memorial rites for fallen soldiers.

The ferocity of the debate, going to the heart of Israel's secular and religious Jewish divide, prompted the intervention on Monday of a parliamentary panel that urged Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's fractious cabinet to decide the issue.

The controversy is over whether Yizkor, the Hebrew prayer of remembrance, should begin at military ceremonies with the words "May God remember" or "May the people of Israel remember."

Military policy calls for the version mentioning God to be used, but enforcement has been patchy in an apparent nod to the sentiments of the Jewish state's secular majority.

Media reports that Israel's new armed forces chief, Lieutenant-General Benny Ganz, had sided with chaplains who insisted on using the "May God remember" phrase have drawn complaints the military is becoming too Orthodox.

"The people's army is little by little becoming an army of God," left-wing legislator Ilan Gilon said.

Military service is compulsory in Israel for Jewish men and women, who are drafted at the age of 18. Although the majority of soldiers are not religious, a growing number of top officers are devout Jews.

Einat Wilfe, a lawmaker with Defense Minister Ehud Barak's Independence party, accused military officials at the parliament meeting of "disrupting a delicate balance" between the conflicting demands of religious and secular Israelis.

Some religious legislators from parties in Netanyahu's coalition urged a compromise, such as blending the religious and secular versions of the prayer.

"A solution must be found, and we ought to respect each other," Zevulun Orlev of the Religious Home Party, said.

Last week, Ganz named a panel of officers and rabbis to look at the case.

(Editing by Michael Roddy)