The head of a pre-army religious academy in southern Israel with a history of anti-LGBTQ remarks who has also spoken out against women in the military, and who most recently called for the release of a right-wing extremist convicted of killing three members of a Palestinian family in a 2015 arson attack, spoke at an event for soldiers in Jerusalem last week.
Rabbi Tzvi Kostiner, who heads Mitzpe Ramon’s Midbara K’Eden Yeshiva, was one of several rabbinical figures, including the rabbinical authority of the Israel Defense Forces’ Southern Command and a number of pre-military academy heads, to have spoken at the all-day event on August 6.
The Israeli military told Ynet it will review the participation of Kostiner at future IDF events following backlash late last week after a clip emerged showing him calling for the release of Amiram Ben Uliel, who was sentenced to three life sentences plus 20 years for the 2015 deadly firebombing in the West Bank village of Duma in which Riham and Saad Dawabsha were killed along with their 18-month-old son, Ali Saad.
Only the couple’s eldest son, Ahmed, survived the terror attack, with terrible burns; he was five years old at the time.
Ben Uliel was found guilty in 2020 of three counts of murder, two counts of attempted murder, arson and conspiring to commit a racially motivated crime as part of a “terrorist act.”
There have been demonstrations calling for Ben Uliel’s release, largely focusing on the fact that his confession was obtained using what the Shin Bet security agency calls “special measures” — decried as torture by Ben Uliel and by rights groups.
הרב קוסטינר: ״צבא יהודי זה צבא בלי בנות״, ״איפה שאתה עובד, להגיד 'להט"בים הביתה, הומואים הביתה'״, ״ישוחרר עמירם בן אוליאל״.
צה״ל: בוא לדבר קצת עם לוחמים pic.twitter.com/12I6uzcdTu
— רועי שרון Roy Sharon (@roysharon11) August 13, 2023
During one of these rallies, Kostiner was filmed on Thursday saying that Ben Uliel’s treatment by the courts was “one of the greatest injustices” by the State of Israel.
Kostiner, who heads Mitzpe Ramon’s Midbara K’Eden Yeshiva, argued that Ben Uliel “didn’t do anything, but even if he did — come on, accept him.”
“I call on everybody, let’s end this evil and do the biggest justice and release him,” he said, adding that he was hoping this would happen as soon as possible.
Decrying the fact that Ben Uliel has been in continued solitary confinement, Kostiner said in the clip that Ben Uliel should ideally be released and completely exonerated, demanding that he at least be transferred to a special jail ward for religious inmates, where he would receive better conditions.
His remarks were slammed Saturday by Labor party chair Merav Michaeli, who tweeted: “This is what supporters of Jewish terror look like.”
Michaeli called on Defense Minister Yoav Gallant to cut off the partnership between the IDF and Kostiner’s academy as long as he heads it.
“An inciteful person full of poison who already called for students to refuse to serve with women in the IDF. [He] acts against the LGBTQ community and pride parades in the city. A person whose institution is seriously funded by the State of Israel,” she wrote.
The firebombing of the Dawabsha family, considered one of the most brutal acts of Jewish terror in recent years, led to official promises to crack down on Jewish extremism in the West Bank, though critics say many Jewish terrorists still act with impunity, especially under the current hard-right government.