The leaders of World Bnei Akiva are leaning toward ousting the secretary-general of the religious-Zionist youth movement over remarks he made last week urging violent revenge on Palestinians for the murder of three Jewish teenagers, Haaretz has learned.
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For the second time in recent days, Rabbi Noam Perel, the secretary-general, issued an apology on Sunday for his statement, which angered many in the movement – this time a more strongly-worded apology.
Shortly after the bodies of the teenage boys were discovered last week, Perel posted on his Facebook page: “An entire nation and thousands of years of history demand revenge.” He urged the “army of avengers” not to stop at “300 Philistine foreskins,” alluding to the biblical tale of David, who killed 200 Philistines and gave their foreskins to King Saul as the bride price for his daughter.
Expressing his deep apologies and describing his Facebook post as “misleading and irresponsible,” Perel said in a statement published today: “The call for the Israeli government to look after the lives of our children must not be confused in any way with any suggestion of revenge, words which should not be used by any person, and certainly not educators and leaders. I cannot express to you how badly this error has caused me to feel, and especially its unintended consequences.”
The governing body of World Bnei Akiva is to hold an emergency meeting in Israel within the next two weeks and decide whether or not to replace Perel. Composed of dozens of representatives of the youth movement from around the world, this governing body, known as the extended secretariat, is also expected to publish a statement strongly condemning revenge killings and vigilantism.
With 30,000 members worldwide, Bnei Akiva is the largest Zionist youth movement in the world today. World Bnei Akiva operates independently from the Bnei Akiva movement in Israel.
'Something dramatic needed'
Sources high up in the movement told Haaretz they believed Perel would be ousted because “something dramatic needs to be done” and “there is a huge amount of upset” over his remarks in the organization.
Daniel Goldman, co-chairman of World Bnei Akiva, said he welcomed Perel’s most recent statement. “I want to focus now on fixing any damage that’s been caused to the reputation of Bnei Akiva or the Jewish community in general by his previous statement,” he said. “Whatever decision will be taken will take into account what is right for Bnei Akiva.”
Last week, a petition was circulated online among current and former Bnei Akiva members around the world demanding that Perel be dismissed. The petition was initiated by Anton Goodman, a British-born Israeli who has held various leadership positions in the youth movement.
Goodman said the petition had already garnered close to 500 signatures, with the list of names resembling a who’s who of the movement’s top brass. Among the prominent names who had signed the petition, he said, were Eli Gottlieb, a former leader of Bnei Akiva in the UK (one of the movement’s largest hubs overseas); Cheryl Eman, a previous co-chair of the board of governors; and Rabbi Gideon Sylvester, the British United Synagogue’s rabbi in Israel.
In statements published in recent days, the UK branch of Bnei Akiva distanced itself from Perel, while the Scandinavian branch went so far as to demand his immediate dismissal. Bnei Akiva in North America was more reserved in its response to Perel’s comments, noting that they were “his own” and did not reflect the broader movement.
Among those who have sprung to Perel’s defense in recent days, insisting that he is generally a positive force in the movement, was Shimon Shatach, head of Ne’emanei Torah v’Avoda, a movement created by graduates of Bnei Akiva to counter growing religious extremism in the movement.
“I happen to know him personally,” said Shatach. “He has a tendency to act spontaneously and say things from his gut. His big mistake was that he didn’t issue this apology earlier, but that’s not a reason to fire him.”