Anti-gay Rabbi Who Heads pre-IDF Academy Blasts Attempts to Prevent Civilian Deaths

Yig'al Levinstein, the head of an IDF pre-conscription academy, says army 'delegitimizing combat' after also angering many Israelis by denouncing members of the LGBT community as 'perverts.'

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Premilitary academy head Yigal Levinstein at a conference in Jerusalem in July 2016.
Premilitary academy head Yigal Levinstein at a conference in Jerusalem in July 2016.Credit: YouTube
Gili Cohen
Jonathan Lis

Rabbi Yig'al Levinstein, the head of an IDF pre-conscription academy who called homosexual people "perverts", slammed the army's efforts to avoid harming civilian noncombatants.

In videotaped remarks that surfaced on Sunday, Levinstein, one of religious Zionism's leading clergymen and head of the academy in the West Bank settlement of Eli, said such a policy "shows a development of delegitimizing combat.”

“It’s called ‘not harming innocents’; that’s what they call it.”

Levinstein said he first noticed the practice in Operation Cast Lead in Gaza in late 2008, adding that now, it “is spreading like wildfire.”

He then said that graduates of the pre-military academies should consider enlisting in the Military Advocate General’s Corps, because “in any case they determine whom to shoot at and when. The officers, in the end, are just the ones who pull the trigger.

"This results in danger to our soldiers. The value placed on the other side – on what are called innocents – has been rising to the point of endangering our soldiers, and I’m not making this up.”

Levinstein spoke at a conference last week on “Zion and Jerusalem,” whose videotaped was published on Sunday on Kipa, an Orthodox Israeli web site.

Levinstein caused a stir last week when video of part of that speech was published in which he denounced gay people as “perverts” and assailed the Israeli army's acceptance of the LGBT community.

In his remarks, Levinstein also took issue with the IDF's “Sunday culture” program of taking soldiers to the theater.

“There’s an honorable secular culture with which we should be familiar,” he said.

“But they take officers to shows at Habima, and the Cameri,” Levinstein said, referring to the national and the Tel Aviv city theater companies.

He said these productions demonstrate "the worst values you can possibly imagine for combat education, for the justness of our path. Values of defeatism, of demolishing myths, and for what could be called the crowning glory, the icing on this destructive cake, there is also what is known as lewdness.”

Levinstein referred to a play called “Gorodish,” about a former IDF general, in which an actress appears “in an immodest fashion” and several students of his Bnei David Academy  walked out. He said the Cameri had failed to comply with a request by the army to cut that scene from that specific performance.

Levinstein had once resigned from a committee that advised the IDF on issues of Jewish identity  over what he termed the army’s embrace of Jewish pluralism.

In his speech, the rabbi described a meeting he had on this issue with the head of the IDF’s manpower directorate, Maj. Gen. Hagai Topolansky.

“The Reform movement isn’t a Jewish movement,” Levinstein said he had told Topolansky. “I told him, this is a Christian movement. There have been many movements that began in Judaism, abandoned it and became other movements. I said I won’t discuss this.”

He also described a similarly confrontational meeting with the chief of staff, at which he said, “Neither you nor I were raised on these values as fighters.”

But the main target of his wrath was the IDF’s Education Corps and its head, Brig. Gen. Avner Paz-Tzuk.

Levinstein accused Paz-Tzuk of resisting the military rabbinate’s involvement in educational programs and trying to replace Jewish identity education with programs about secular values such as religious pluralism and acceptance of the LGBT community.

Levinstein’s remarks angered many officers. One senior officer who spoke to Haaretz on Sunday rebuffed the rabbi’s attempt to intervene in combat norms and ethics, and wondered from which sources Levinstein derived the principles reflected in his speech.

Israel’s main LGBT organization filed a police complaint against Levinstein  for calling its members “perverts.. "The complaint filed by Imri Kalmann, joint chairman of The Aguda – The Israeli National LGBT Task Force, accused Levinstein of incitement to bigotry.

Levinstein had said in his anti-gay remarks:

“There’s an insane movement here whose members have lost the normalcy of life. This group makes the country mad and has now penetrated the IDF in full force – and no one dares open their mouth and speak out against it. At Bahad 1, there are lectures by perverts,” Levinstein said, referring to the army’s main officers' training base.

President Reuven Rivlin also criticized Levinstein's comments, during a meeting on Sunday with the parents of Shira Banki, a teenager murdered at  the 2015 Gay Pride Parade in Jerusalem.

“We must stop the incitement against the gay community and all the backing that this incitement receive” Rivlin said.

“The things said by rabbis, leaders and intellectuals pain me greatly. I would like to once again remind everyone that ‘man is beloved because he was created in God’s image’ – all of mankind, without distinctions of religion, race or gender .

"I’m certain that the rabbis to whom many students look, including some members of the LGBT community themselves, will also find the way to make it clear that they do not think differently,” Rivlin said.

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