Colonel Eyal Karim, tapped to become the next Israel Defense Forces chief rabbi, told the High Court of Justice on Wednesday that he never said, wrote or thought that it was permissible for Israeli soldiers to rape women during battle, after he was ordered to clarify controversial comments he made over a decade ago.
The court froze Karim’s nomination on Monday, saying that before he could assume the post, he must issue an affidavit clarifying the remarks that were perceived as condoning the assault of non-Jewish women during wartime.
In his written statement to the court, Karim apologized for the statements and to those who were offended by them.
“I made a mistake when I gave a short answer to a complicated question,” he wrote. “I was wrong because sometimes I was not precise with my words and some people found them offensive. I apologize.”
The rabbi stressed that he never expressed any opinion that such actions were allowed. In his view, he wrote, it is completely forbidden for a soldier to carry out such an act.
Karim clarified that this was his view when he answered the original question in the remarks that led to a media firestorm, and this was still his opinion today.
Meretz MK Tamar Zandberg, who was one of the petitioners to the High Court on the issue, responded positively Monday evening to Karim’s clarification.
“Rabbi Karim presented his declaration to the High Court,” she wrote in Hebrew on Twitter. “It is an honest, emotional statement, admitting to his past mistakes. He completely forbids rape and respects all people and declares equality for LGBTs and others.”
When Karim’s comments first surfaced in 2012, he issued a similar clarification, stating that his comments were in no way meant to be applied in the modern era.
Earlier Wednesday, 150 rabbis who serve as IDF reservists published a letter in support of Karim, the religious website Kipa reported (Hebrew link).
“Rabbi Karim is a scholar who has proved himself over many years of dedication both on the battlefield and in his concern for every soldier in the army,” they wrote.
“We express our support for the incoming chief rabbi of the IDF, Rabbi Eyal Karim,” they continued. “The attempt to disqualify the appointment of the rabbi due to his legitimate Torah views is something that will end badly for the entire Torah world in the State of Israel and the Israel Defense Forces.
“We wish to clarify our stance that we consider Rabbi Karim to be the most appropriate candidate at this time. We strongly demand that his appointment be confirmed.”
The letter also offered personal words of support to the rabbi and called on him not to apologize or back down from what he had said.
Karim has also maintained in the past that it is “entirely forbidden” for women to serve in the military for reasons of modesty and has opposed female singing at army events.
In addition to the rabbis, Karim has the support of IDF Chief of Staff Gadi Eisenkot and the General Staff, as well as of MK Betzalel Smotrich and Agriculture Minister Uri Ariel, both from the right-wing Jewish Home party. Right-wing demonstrators gathered outside the Jerusalem home of Supreme Court President Justice Miriam Naor on Monday night to protest the High Court freeze on Karim’s nomination.