September 25, 2018

Breaking the Glass Ceiling in the Israeli Air Force

“When retired Col. Miri Eisin graduated from high school in Israel in 1980, she was drafted like every 18-year-old boy and girl in the Jewish State to the Israel Defense Forces (IDF). It was both a totally ordinary and extraordinary event: At home in Israel, military service is as much a part of quotidian life as taxes and public transport. But zooming out of that postage-stamp-sized nation and taking in the state of the world as a whole, Israel’s military — which is among only a handful on earth to require conscription of its female citizens — is radically unique.

Eisin, who was born in Northern California but raised in Israel, speaks fluent English and also impressive French. It was mostly for her language skills, she says, that she was placed into military intelligence, a role that jived well with her personality. Eisin is quick-thinking, intelligent and has fierce work ethics, which might have been why — while still in her compulsory training — she pushed very hard to get accepted into an officers’ training course. Eisin would go on to spend 20 years in the military, far beyond the mandatory two years that are required of Israeli women (men must serve for three years). She rose all the way up to the rank of colonel — a position whose stripes are so elusive that only 2% of the officers wearing them in Israel have ever been women.

At the time, she was extraordinary. While equality for women in the IDF looks much different today than it did when Eisin first joined up as a teenager, the reality, she says, is that equality has never been the goal.

“Everything that has to do with women in the [Israeli] military has evolved, developed and changed in the last 25 years,” she says. “Most women used to go to clerical positions, but I was lucky, and I pushed very hard to go to an officers’ course.””

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