An IDF commander in Israel’s Givati Brigade has drawn both criticism and praise for a letter of encouragement he wrote to the men under his command.
Col. Ofer Winter’s letter, first published in Hebrew on the NRG website, was meant to inspire his soldiers, now stationed on the border with Gaza and likely to be deployed in the event of a ground invasion.
In his letter, Winter makes several references to God, quoting from both the Bible and Jewish liturgy. Most notably, he refers to the enemy as “blasphemers”.
“History has chosen us to be the sharp edge of the spear fighting the terrorist enemy that dares to curse, blaspheme and scorn the God of Israel’s battles. We have practiced and prepared for this time and we take upon ourselves the mission with full humility, and out of willingness to endanger ourselves and give our lives to protect our families, our nation and our homeland,” reads the letter.
Winter goes on to say that the force will act to eradicate the enemy and do everything in its power to bring everyone home safely.
He calls out to God on behalf of his soldiers, saying, “I look up to the heavens and I read with you ‘Hear O Israel, the Lord our God, the Lord is one,’” a quote from the Shema prayer recited twice a day.
“The Lord, the God of Israel, make our path on which we go successful, as we are poised to fight for your people Israel against an enemy that abuses your name. In the name of the fighters of the IDF and in particular the brigade and the commanders, may the verse be fulfilled for us that ‘the Lord your God goes with you to fight for you with your enemies to save you,’ and we will say ‘Amen.’ Together and only together we will win.”
Several secular voices criticized Winter’s letter. Mickey Gitzin, the head of the Israel Be Free secularist movement, argued the letter turns Israel’s military conflict into a religious war.
“IDF commanders should also remember that the IDF is the national army, not a religious militia, and therefore he needs to include everyone who serves in the IDF, haredim, national-religious, secular, Jews and non-Jews, and to refrain from the kind of terminology he used,” Gitzin said.
Reform Rabbi Uri Regev of the Hiddush religious freedom lobby group also urged Winter to separate religion from his military responsibilities. He called on Winter’s superiors to remind him of this duty.
Others, however, came to Winter’s defense.
Deputy Religious Services Minister Eli Ben-Dahan of the Jewish Home party issued a statement of support.
“It looks like there’s no cure for self-hatred,” Ben-Dahan quipped. “The words of Col. Winter were written with true humility that is appropriate and proper for the heroes of Israel who do not glorify in their own strength but know that there are forces beyond them and seek their help.”
Shas MK Eli Yishai also expressed his appreciation for Winter’s words. “The expression ‘with God’s help’ is an expression of faith and trust, and it is the right of everyone to support and be supported by focusing on his faith,” he posted on Facebook. “I’m sorry that at a time when the entire Jewish people stands before the enemy, there are organizations that seek to promote strife and contention. With the help of God, we will be victorious.”
Likud MK Moshe Feiglin called those opposed to Winter “radical NGOs”, adding, “Winter knows that his soldiers are representative of Israeli society, the great majority of which is closely connected to its Jewish identity and faith in differing degrees of religious practice.”