An IDF infantry brigade commander has come under criticism after composing a letter to his subordinate officers in which he called upon the divine to assist Israel in fighting a “blasphemous” foe in the Gaza Strip.
In an official dispatch sent to battalion and company commanders on July 9, Givati Brigade commander Colonel Ofer Winter told his subordinates that “History has chosen us to spearhead the fighting (against) the terrorist ‘Gazan’ enemy which abuses, blasphemes and curses the God of Israel’s (defense) forces.”
The letter came to light as Israel gears up for possible ground operations against Hamas in the Palestinian territory. A ground incursion would in all likelihood involve the Givati Brigade.
“We have planned and prepared for this moment and we take the mission upon ourselves out of commitment, complete humility, and because we are prepared to endanger ourselves and lay down our lives in order to protect our families, our people and our homeland,” he wrote in the letter.
Winter then invoked the Shema — the traditional Jewish prayer of allegiance to the one God — and called upon “the God of Israel” to “make our path successful as we go and stand to fight for the sake of your people of Israel against a foe which curses your name.”
Mickey Gitzin, executive director of Israel Hofshit — an organization which promotes religious freedom — called the letter outrageous, according to a report on Walla News.
“It turns the conflict from a one against terror to a religious war on any resident of Gaza,” Gitzin said. He added that there was a growing phenomenon of religious terminology entering the military and called the trend extremely dangerous.
“I would expect IDF commanders to remember that the IDF is the army of the people and not a religious militia,” Gitzin said.
The head of Hiddush, an Israeli freedom of religion organization, condemned what he called Winter’s “unacceptable and most problematic intermingling of religion with the army.”
Israeli Reform Rabbi Uri Regev said in a statement that it was important for Winter’s superiors to make clear to him the difference between raising the morale of the troops and invoking a religious war against Hamas, and that they should remind Winter of “the required separation of religious faith and military duties.”
There was no immediate comment from the IDF about Winter’s letter.