Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu defended female troops Wednesday morning, as condemnation of a rabbi who heads a pre-army yeshiva and who called female military service “crazy” gathered steam.
Speaking at a meeting of the Knesset Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee on Wednesday, Netanyahu said Israel was “proud” of its history of integrating females into its fighting forces, going back to biblical times.
“Female Jewish fighters, from the time of Yael the heroine to the present — with Hannah Senesh and the fighters in the Etzel, the Palmach and the Lehi and the IDF, heroic warriors in the police and Border Police that we see here on the streets — are an active, and sometimes very senior, part of our national defense,” the prime minister said.
“We are proud of it, and will will further it. It’s important to say this in the most clear fashion,” he added.
Netanyahu did not mention Rabbi Yigal Levinstein by name, but his comments were a clear rebuke to the head of the Eli pre-army religious academy broadcast Tuesday night who told several hundred graduates of another academy, in the settlement of Bnei Atzmon, that IDF service has “driven our girls crazy.”
Defense Minister Avigdor Liberman said from Washington that he would consider sanctions against Levinstein over the comments.
“We will reconsider the position of Rabbi Levinstein and his fitness to prepare young people for service in the Israel Defense Forces,” Liberman said while on the state visit to the US.
During the Knesset Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee meeting Wednesday, a number of lawmakers joined a growing chorus speaking out against Levinstein’s comments.
Committee chairman and former Shin Bet security agency head Avi Dichter (Likud) said that “the committee will continue to fight against educators who besmirch the women of Israel,” although he did not specify how the committee would combat the issue.
Zionist Union MK and former defense minister Amir Peretz said that funding for the pre-army religious academy in Eli should be cut off until Levinstein resigns.
“Rabbi Levinstein needs to be removed from his post right away,” Peretz said, calling the freezing of Defense Ministry funds for the yeshiva a “fitting response to [Levinstein’s] way of corrupting the preparatory students.”
Culture Minister Miri Regev (Likud), who previously was a brigadier general in the IDF when she served as the army’s chief spokesperson, denounced Levinstein’s comments during an interview with Army Radio, saying they “don’t represent me, don’t represent other rabbis and don’t represent the right wing” in Israel.
In the recording released Tuesday, Levinstein is heard disparaging female soldiers.
“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.”
“What happens if there’s a female company commander? This is a question of madness, it belongs in an insane asylum,” Levinstein said. “This is an Orthodox girl. Put aside those who are secular. They’re making our girls crazy.”
As for female IDF soldiers in camouflage, Levinstein speculated that it was just practice for something far more important.
“Someone told me recently, ‘Don’t worry. They’re just practicing putting on makeup for their wedding day.’ I don’t know who will marry them. She’ll tell the kids battlefield stories at night. That’s what they call the new family, right? Two fathers. It’s a madhouse. Simply a madhouse.”
Levinstein went on to talk about the benefits of marrying young, then categorized all of the women who serve in the coed infantry battalion Caracal as unattractive
Retired Brig. Gen. Rachel Tevah-Wiesel, who advised army brass in issues relating to women, called the comments, “infuriating” and “cowardly” and said rabbis who held views like Levinstein’s were just “scared” because “the train has already left the station” and religious girls are joining the army.
Some 4,000 religious girls currently serve in the IDF, Tevah-Wiesel said.
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.
Times of Israel staff contributed to this report.