A Channel 13 reporter was suspended on Monday in connection with a report from 10 days ago that portrayed a leading rabbi at a pre-military academy as an extremist encouraging a fear of secularism. He has since apologized and acknowledged that it was misleading.
On Sunday the Kan public broadcaster showed further videos that made it clear that the original clips of Rabbi Asaf Namburg lecturing students at Education Minister Rafi Peretz’s academy were taken out of context and he was deliberately playing the devil’s advocate in classes and arguing different positions with his students.
“I want to apologize,” tweeted journalist Omri Maniv, who was suspended pending an internal network review of his story. “I watched the lectures from the academy before I published the report. After today’s publications I took some breaths (many) and watched them again and I understood that what was said in the classes was different to what I presented.”
“Nothing is more important to me than being accurate and that when I sign off on an item, it is solid,” he said. “Sorry.”
The original clips were presented as being some of the hundreds of videos from lessons at the Otzem Pre-Military Torah Academy that were taken offline shortly after Peretz entered politics. Peretz led the academy until he became the head of the Jewish Home party earlier this year.
Among the most shocking videos were those of Namburg, who appeared to be making numerous derogatory statements against secular Israelis.
At one point Namburg apparently urged students at the school, which officially aims to prepare students for army service, to stay away from the military so as not to be tainted by the secularism they may encounter there.
“I won’t go to the army if I know that [by going there] I oppose the fear of God. Is it better to come out secular? To blaspheme against God and rebel against him? To be wimps? To lose a tradition of 2000 years? To be nothing, so long as we have an army?”
But in Sunday’s Kan report he can be heard first clearly telling students that he was now going to explain the reasoning of ultra-Orthodox Jews who reject serving in the IDF.
In another clip on the original Channel 13 broadcast he can be heard railing against the secular left, saying: “‘Let each live by his own faith. What, you’re not pluralistic?’ Since when?! Where does that insane sentence come from? There is no such sentence anywhere, except in the books of [the progressive political party] Meretz, ‘Let each live by his own faith!'”
He rejected association with secular Israelis, saying: “Where did you hear you can bring the wicked closer [to the Torah]? To give them legitimacy? Their places of entertainment are wicked places where women and men mix.”
Sunday’s Kan broadcast of other recordings from Namburg indicated those were not his views at all.
“We have here right and left, we have secular and religious, one thing is clear: everyone believes they are acting for the good of the country,” he tells students.
“I completely believe that (former Meretz leader) Zahava Galon has the best interests of the country in her heart, just as I do. She just has a different understanding of what is best for the country,” he said. “But she loves the country.”
In other videos he can be heard speaking out clearly against hatred and political violence.
Responding to the initial report, Otzem said it teaches its students a unifying and conciliatory approach, as well as “loyalty to the country in every area of life.”
It added: “The statements were made as part of a legitimate discourse at the school and we regret that the content of the lessons was presented without context. Sifting for one comment or another is part of an ongoing campaign by the radical left against the world of premilitary academies and the world of the Torah.”
Peretz also said the clips had been taken out of context and were being used in a campaign against Judaism and its values. “Our academy teaches the love of Israel,” he said, and the same approach would be instituted in Israel’s schools.
The notion that the academy sought to deter students from IDF service was false and foul, he said, noting that 100% of graduates serve in the IDF, 85% of them in combat units, and that 13 graduates had lost their lives in the IDF. “Would you say of them that they were educated not to serve in the IDF?”
Peretz, head of the national religious Jewish Home party — now part of the Yamina right-wing political alliance — was appointed education minister in June by Netanyahu’s caretaker government. In 1992, Peretz founded the academy, originally located in a settlement in the Gaza Strip, which became known for developing future leaders in the socially conservative national religious camp.
He served as the chief rabbi of the Israel Defense Forces from 2010 to 2016.