Defense Minister Avigdor Liberman on Wednesday threatened to sever official recognition of the institutions associated with a rabbi who made a series of offensive statements against women serving in the military, if the rabbi doesn’t resign.
Rabbi Yigal Levinstein, head of a religious pre-army academy and hesder yeshiva in the settlement of Eli, came under fire last week after a video emerged of him saying female soldiers were not Jews and military service had driven them “crazy.”
He had been punished for making other statements against women and gays in the past as well.
“In light of the fact that it is a constantly repeating issue, and with clear statements that you unquestionably stand behind them, I request that you resign from your position in the pre-army program and in the Hesder Yeshiva,” he said. “If you do not do so, I will be forced to use my authority to end the Defense Ministry’s recognition of the yeshiva in the West Bank town of Eli and will do everything in my power to stop the recognition of the pre-army program in Eli.”
Currently, students at the hesder yeshiva can count part of their time at the institution toward mandatory army service. Without recognition, they would lose that ability.
Liberman also called on Levinstein to apologize to bereaved families.
After footage was broadcast a week ago on Channel 2 news showing Levinstein telling several hundred graduates of a prestigious religious army preparatory academy in the West Bank settlement of Bnei Atzmon that IDF service has “driven our girls crazy,” he responded to an outcry by saying he regretted the way he spoke but stuck by the ideas.
In his speech Levinstein said that women who serve in the army leave their religion behind during their time in the military.
“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.”
Liberman said that such statements, and similar ones which Levinstein has said many times in the past, against “different groups who serve in the army” show intent to incite and also “represent a loss of sensibility – I don’t know which of the two is worse.”
MK Bezalel Smotrich of the right-wing Jewish Home party, rejected Liberman’s call for Levinstein’s resignation.
“Liberman’s threats against Rabbi Levinstein and the Eli Academy are populist impertinence and lack all meaning,” Smotrich tweeted. “There is no chance that he can carry out his threat. Enough of this silencing.”
Labor MK Mickey Rosenthal rejected Levinstein’s comments, but said that it was wrong of Liberman to call for his resignation because it was an infringement of free speech.
However, Liberman was praised by several other politicians, including Labor MK Amir Peretz, Yesh Atid MK Haim Jelin.
Levinstein drew censure last year after a speech he gave calling homosexuals “deviants.” He wrote a letter to the Defense Ministry, explaining his comments, but has had many of his activities with the military cut short in light of his controversial remarks.
In his televised speech to recruits, Levinstein referenced last summer’s scandal, saying he met recently with an IDF general to smooth things over.
In his latest remarks, Levinstein also discussed gay men.
“They call them ‘new families,’ with two dads. It’s an insane asylum, simply an insane asylum,” he said, shaking his head.
Levinstein responded to the outcry over the speech, telling Channel 2 news last week 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.”
Interior Minister Aryeh Deri, who heads the ultra-Orthodox Shas party, praised Levinstein for telling the truth about women in the army.
During an interview with Army Radio last week Deri said that “it takes courage to speak [about this] religious ruling and good for him for being brave and speaking [about this] religious ruling,” he said.
“I praise him for saying the truth and for not being afraid to say the truth,” he added.
Jewish Home leader Naftali Bennett last week rejected calls to remove recognition from Levinstein’s institutions, saying 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.”
But Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu issued a clear rebuke of Levinstein last week, saying Israel was “proud” of its history of integrating females into its fighting forces.
Culture Minister Miri Regev (Likud), who had been a brigadier general in the IDF when she served as the army’s chief spokesperson, also denounced the rabbi’s comments.
Hesder yeshivas, of which there are several around the country, enable religious soldiers to combine their national service in the army with time spent studying religious texts in the yeshivas. The soldiers are usually inducted into “hesder units” within the tank and infantry corps, where they are better able to maintain religious practices such as prayers and observing Shabbat, the day of rest.