Israeli troops demand right to wear beards in the military

David Rose
·2 min read
Israeli Defense Force troops  - Uriel Sinai/Getty Images
Israeli Defense Force troops - Uriel Sinai/Getty Images

Hundreds of Israeli soldiers have renewed a campaign against strict military rules that require soldiers to shave their beards, even if they are conscripted.

The "Beard Exemption for All" campaign is challenging an edict stating "all soldiers are required to shave their faces", claiming that it is harming morale and leading some men to dodge their military service at age 18.

While the Israeli Defence Forces (IDF) allows reservists and some personnel to wear beards, for example for religious reasons, a group of 17 soldiers has filed a supreme court petition in January seeking to force the army to grant exemptions to any soldier who makes a request.

Bar Pinto, a 29-year-old tank captain in the reserve forces, who started a crowd-funding campaign with a fellow Israeli beard aficionado Gilad Levi, said 1,600 troops had contributed 120,000 shekels (£26,150) to pay for the legal challenge.

“We love the army, we love Israel and we don’t think the Army should waste its time and resources by compelling its soldiers to shave” he said.

“The IDF say that shaving encourages discipline, and allows beards if you are religious or can prove it is part of your identity,” he added. “But we have heard from thousands of soldiers who say that the rules are discriminatory and are not being applied consistently. ”

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 have been seeking to avoid serving, citing exemptions due to mental health and other grounds.

Mr Pinto, who owns a bar in Tel Aviv, said that facial hair was popular with many young Israeli men, regardless of their religious beliefs, and the IDF had promised to relax the rules in 2015.

“But in July last year the Chief of Staff ordered a crackdown on beards again and every commander has his own interpretation,” he said.

The IDF is due to respond to the soldiers’ petition later this month, and judges could then rule on the matter.

Military forces around the world have varying attitudes to how much facial hair is allowed, if any.

The Royal Air Force joined the Royal Navy in permitting full beards in 2019, but the British Army only officially permits short moustaches, despite some exceptions being granted due to regimental traditions or among the special forces.