Amid widespread outrage, Israel’s military backed down Tuesday from plans to jail a soldier for eating a pork sandwich on base in violation of kosher rules, acknowledging that it had made a mistake.
The 24-hour news swirl began when veteran military affairs reporter Carmela Menashe – the go-to journalist for soldiers’ grievances, big and small – reported Monday that the army had thrown the book at a U.S.-born soldier for eating the sandwich. The meal reportedly violated regulations that keeps all military facilities kosher in strict adherence to Jewish dietary laws.
According to Menashe, the Boston native who recently arrived in Israel to volunteer for military service was sentenced to no fewer than 11 days in military prison for the violation and kicked out of the commanders’ course he was attending.
Explaining the harsh judgment, an army spokesperson told Israeli media Monday that the soldier’s actions were “unbecoming” for a cadet in a commanders’ course.
The story spread, provoking enraged responses urging the army keep its business out of soldiers’ sandwiches and prompting lawmaker Yoel Razbozov to send an angry letter to the Defense Ministry and military authorities.
On Tuesday, the army announced that it was canceling the jail time and allowing the soldier to continue his coursework, with a token grounding for the weekend.
“The bottom line is we were wrong,” military spokesman Motti Almoz wrote Tuesday on Facebook. The army would continue to keep kosher but “we will not pry into soldiers’ sandwiches,” he wrote.
Israeli media refrained from identifying the soldier. However, Osnat Levy wrote on Facebook from Boston that her son Ohad returned to his base after spending the recent Shavuot holiday on a kibbutz with his grandmother. As is customary, the grandmother sent him back to the army with provisions and a bag of goodies -- including non-kosher sausages that had been given out on the kibbutz.
When her son later called to say he’d been kicked out of the course and sent to jail for eating sandwiches made with the forbidden meat, Levy didn’t believe it at first.
“It took me a few minutes to understand this was real and that in Israel of 2015 my son, who chose to return to Israel and volunteer for combat service, is going to jail for eating non-kosher meat,” she wrote, calling the whole affair “surreal.”
Speaking in the parliament, or Knesset, on Tuesday, Razbozov, a former chairman of the parliamentary committee for immigration affairs, welcomed the army’s change of heart but urged it to use better judgment in treating immigrants and soldiers with “different cultural baggage.”
Citing Israel’s proclamation of independence promising freedom of religion and conscience for all citizens, Razbozov noted that Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu had dined at a non-kosher restaurant in New York after addressing the United Nations General Assembly last year “and nothing happened.” Netanyahu had denied eating anything that wasn’t kosher.
The lawmaker referred to another recent controversial case involving the military, when a brigade commander was dismissed from the army for indecent acts and sexual harassment of a female soldier under his command. “He got zero days in jail, zero. Where’s the proportion?” he asked.
Sobelman is a special correspondent.