After rabbi’s anti-gay comments, Ya’alon warns of national religious ‘radicalization’
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After rabbi’s anti-gay comments, Ya’alon warns of national religious ‘radicalization’

Ex-defense minister says inability to resolve conflict with Palestinians is also causing rift between left and right in Israel

Stuart Winer is a breaking news editor at The Times of Israel.

Moshe Ya'alon (Wikimedia Commons via JTA)
Moshe Ya'alon (Wikimedia Commons via JTA)

Former army chief and defense minister Moshe Ya’alon warned Wednesday of radicalization of the national religious community, saying signs could be seen in comments by a rabbi at a prominent pre-military academy who referred to homosexuals as “deviants.”

Speaking at a conference organized by The Marker business newspaper, Ya’alon also said that the Palestinian leadership is unwilling to end its decades-long conflict with Israel, and that this ongoing conflict is causing a crippling division between the left and right within Israeli politics.

“I heard about the comments by someone who is supposed to teach young people in a pre-military academy,” Ya’alon said in reference to Rabbi Yigal Levinstein, who co-heads a religious academy in the West Bank settlement of Eli. Levinstein was filmed last week telling a Jewish law convention that, “under the framework of pluralism, soldiers and officers are taught to refer to [LGBT people] as ‘proud,’ but I don’t dare call them that…. ‘deviants’ is what I call them.”

“The academy has produced many quality commanders,” Ya’alon continued, “but the fact that this is dialogue from someone who is in education is an indication of radicalization. I haven’t heard dialogue like this, in an academy like this, for some years.”

Rabbi Yigal Levinstein speaking at the 'Zion and Jerusalem' convention July 2016. (Screen capture: Youtube)
Rabbi Yigal Levinstein speaking at the ‘Zion and Jerusalem’ convention in July 2016. (Screen capture: Youtube)

Levinstein’s comments also showed “radicalization within” the national religious community, Ya’alon said, and called on the Defense Ministry, the Education Ministry and the IDF to take action over the incident.

“Most of all, it needs introspection by the heads of the academy and the heads of the community,” Ya’alon added. “To my regret, both in the Knesset and outside of it, the national religious sector is leading radicalization processes.”

MK Bezalel Smotrich of the Jewish Home party, which draws its voter base from the national religious community, slammed Ya’alon.

“We don’t live by the word of Ya’alon,” Smotrich told Army Radio in an interview. “I really feel for him. Recently he has become a sort of prophet of doom who stands there sniping at Israeli society and for someone to complain about.”

Smotrich also implied that Ya’alon was expressing concern out of a desire to remain relevant now that he no longer holds office.

“I don’t know, it could be that anyone who is outside of the political system needs to get some headlines to stand out or simply needs to remind us that he is alive,” Smotrich said.

After his speech at the conference Ya’alon tweeted that he did not intend to make himself an adversary of the national religious camp.

“Those with a certain interest are using things that I said to turn me into the enemy of religious Zionism,” he wrote. “There is no greater nonsense.”

Ya’alon, who resigned from politics on May 20 after Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu gave his ministerial position to current Defense Minister Avigdor Liberman in a maneuver aimed at bolstering his coalition, also told the conference that he doesn’t believe there will be an end to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict any time soon.

“The conflict has existed since the dawn of Zionism, and to my regret, I don’t see that it will end in the near future,” he said. “It is unpleasant, but it can be not terrible if we act right.”

Ya’alon explained that he doesn’t think the Palestinian leadership is ready to end the conflict, and debate over relations with the Palestinians is preventing the right and left wings in Israeli politics from working together on other matters, The Marker reported.

“We start with the outlook that we don’t want to rule over them but understand that a leadership has still not risen that is ready to guarantee the end of the conflict,” he said.

On Tuesday, the head of the IDF’s Manpower Directorate, Maj. Gen. Hagai Topolanski, canceled a visit to Levinstein’s academy scheduled for that day.

Topolanski has also ordered a review of the army’s invitation to Levinstein to speak to troops, effectively freezing the rabbi’s work with the army or Defense Ministry, Channel 2 reported.

On Monday, the division in the Defense Ministry responsible for the pre-military academies issued a statement “vigorously condemning” the rabbi’s comments, and “demanded clarifications from the academy.”

Times of Israel staff contributed to this report.

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