IDF Spokesperson Maj. Gen. Moti Almoz joined a slew of senior officials in condemning remarks made by the head of an army preparatory academy against women serving in the military.
“In the past few hours, there have been calls to stop the integration of women into the Israel Defense Forces,” Almoz wrote in a Facebook post shortly after midnight Thursday.
“My brothers in arms — you are wrong. The IDF is for everyone, men and women,” he said.
In footage broadcast by Channel 2 news on Tuesday, Rabbi Yigal Levinstein, who runs a pre-army religious academy in the West Bank settlement of Eli, told several hundred graduates of another academy, in the settlement of Bnei Atzmon, that IDF service has “driven our girls crazy.”
“They recruit them to the army, where they enter as Jews, but they’re not Jews by the time they leave,” he said. “Not in the genetic sense, but all of their values and priorities have been upset and we must not allow it.”
In his first public response to the uproar, Levinstein told Channel 2 news on Wednesday that his delivery of the remarks in a mocking and sardonic manner was “inappropriate,” and expressed regret for “hurting people in the way I communicated myself.”
But asked if he would take back the comments, Levinstein said that the “feminist approach” of the IDF was “incompatible with Jewish law,” and that he would not “retract a single word of what I believe.”
It wasn’t Levinstein’s first foray into national controversy. Last year, he drew censure after calling homosexuals “deviants” in a speech.
Almoz, who also serves as head of the IDF’s Manpower Directorate, described the military as a melting pot where there are “sons of the Zionist religious [community] found next to their secular brothers in every rank of the military, and religious and secular female soldiers standing guard over our land, and haredim, and members of other religions.”
The response to Levinstein’s comments has been overwhelmingly critical, with lawmakers from across the political spectrum condemning him.
Knesset Speaker Yuli Edelstein said Thursday that if Levinstein disagreed with the way the army is run he should “do the right thing and resign.”
Defense Minister Avigdor Liberman said Wednesday that he would consider removing the rabbi from his position over the remarks.
Earlier Wednesday, in a letter to Liberman and Education Minister Naftali Bennett, Zionist Union faction chair MK Merav Michaeli demanded the government cut state funding to Levinstein’s academy over his “attack on women.”
However, while distancing himself from Levinstein’s remarks, Bennett derided the requests and implied that Liberman was making empty threats.
“We’ll consider closing the Eli preparatory program when Haniyeh is assassinated,” Bennett said, referring to Liberman’s as-yet unrealized threat, made before he became defense minister, to kill Hamas leader Ismail Haniyeh.
The Jewish Home leader said the academy will “continue its activities as normal. What needs to be fixed will be fixed, certainly in regard to these outrageous statements, but without unnecessary exaggeration.”
The Union of Pre-army Academies published an open letter Wednesday calling Levinstein’s comments “inappropriate” and “disrespectful.”
The letter, signed by the heads of 28 institutions, almost all of which are not religious, said “the use of this sort of derogatory language… is not our way.”
But in a show of support for Levinstein, two renowned hardline religious Zionist leaders, rabbis Zalman Melamed and Dov Lior, issued a religious directive Wednesday banning men from serving in mixed-gender units in the IDF.
Mirroring Levinstein’s language, the directive said that the Israeli military “destroys modesty” and its guidelines are “directly opposed to the Torah.”
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu also came to the defense of female troops on Wednesday, telling a meeting of the Knesset Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee that Israel was “proud” of its history of integrating females into its fighting forces, going back to biblical times.
“Female Jewish fighters, from the time of Yael the heroine to the present — with Hannah Senesh and the fighters in the Etzel, the Palmach and the Lehi and the IDF, heroic warriors in the police and Border Police that we see here on the streets — are an active, and sometimes very senior, part of our national defense,” he said.
Raoul Wootliff and Times of Israel staff contributed to this report.