Every year on Israel’s Independence Day, a small group of Israelis are chosen for the honor of lighting a torch as part of the national celebration. This is the central event of the celebration and the ceremony is aired on every television channel and watched around the country. Lighting a torch at this ceremony is considered a great honor and it is an important recognition of an individual’s achievements. This year Alice Miller, a pioneering feminist who made great strides for gender equality in the armed forces, was one of these honorees. The New Israel Fund is proud to have assisted her.
Two decades ago, Miller, a 23 year-old South-African immigrant to Israel, wanted to apply to be a pilot in the Israeli Air Force – the most coveted, and most competitive, position in the IDF. At that time, women were not admitted to flight school and Miller’s application was denied because of her gender. But Miller, undeterred, took her case to the Supreme Court which ruled in her favor. The justices wrote that “closing the aviation course to women violates their dignity and degrades them.”
This landmark case not only opened the doors to flight school for women; it paved the way for women to serve in many combat roles within the IDF.
Noami Chazan, former president of NIF (and then Knesset Member for the Meretz party) stood with Miller during her lengthy trial and helped the young immigrant navigate the Israeli justice system to secure her rights. Chazan, quoted just after they won the case, said, “We have removed a real obstacle of discrimination against women.”
Two NIF grantees – the Association for Civil Rights in Israel and the Israel Women’s Network – filed the petition to the High Court together with Miller. Attorneys Neta Ziv, an NIF Law Fellow alumna and former board member, and Rachel Benziman argued the case. Together, they secured an historic victory that helped crack the glass ceiling not just for women in the military, but throughout Israeli society.
Miller, along with thirteen other prominent Israelis lit their torches on stage in front of a national audience on Wednesday night, officially opening Israel’s Independence Day festivities.