New Head of Israel's Youth Administration Criticized for Alleged Nationalistic Remarks

Erez Eshel praised hilltop youth, called Ehud Barak 'dangerous.'

The appointment of Erez Eshel as head of the Education Ministry's Youth and Society Administration is raising eyebrows among some ministry staff who asked not to be named, due to nationalistic views he reportedly expressed.

Eshel is a reserve lieutenant colonel and one of the founders of the Ein Prat Academy for Leadership, which brings together religious and secular students. He was quoted on the nrg website of daily newspaper Maariv in 2007 as saying that Israel's presence in the West Bank is important "for the sake of freedom." He also reportedly expressed support for refusal to follow military orders, but only when it comes to attempts to redivide Jerusalem.

Sources at the Education Ministry said that the decision to hire Eshel was not a personal appointment by Education Minister Gideon Sa'ar but was conducted in a public tender through the Civil Service Commission.

Eshel and the ministry declined to provide a formal response for this report.

The Youth and Society Administration has attained increased prominence in the ministry as a result of Sa'ar's efforts to inject values into the Israeli school curriculum that have an emphasis on Jewish heritage and history. In addition to encouraging schools to take their students on field trips to Jerusalem, the administration promotes visits to the disputed West Bank city of Hebron and the biblical West Bank site of Shiloh.

An educator who knows Eshel said his appointment was part of a growing trend. "I'm very dissatisfied with the way in which they're appointing people at the ministry - people who ideologically don't represent general state school education," the source said, adding, "No appointment is made by accident. It's part of a clear nationalist spirit." He called Eshel "talented and ambitious, but with an extreme approach."

In the nrg interview Eshel reportedly took the Supreme Court and its president at the time, Dorit Beinisch, to task, calling for a constitution that would rein in the court's power. The prime minister's immunity from prosecution, he was also quoted as saying, should be expanded to enable the premier to govern without investigations into his conduct before taking office or while in office.

When asked in the same interview for his views on the hard-line nationalistic "hilltop youth," some of whom have been involved in establishing unauthorized Jewish outposts in the West Bank, Eshel reportedly said that early Zionist leader A.D. Gordon would be proud of them, adding, "I very much like Gordon."

When asked by nrg about his views on Defense Minister Ehud Barak, he was quoted: "I know him. He's dangerous. He fled from Lebanon [an apparent reference to Israel's rapid withdrawal in 2000 from southern Lebanon] and weakened the army and security."

In the same interview, Eshel apparently said he believed no distinction should be made between religious and secular Israelis. "We should halt the trend in which one [segment of the] public thinks it has a monopoly on Judaism and another public gives up on Judaism," he was quoted as saying.

Eshel headed the student union at Tel Aviv University in 1998 and was one of the leaders of a campaign to lower school tuition fees. He later served as principal of a high school for children with learning disabilities and more recently served as vice president for student affairs at the Shalem Center in Jerusalem.