Israel Police Rabbi Rebuked for Alleged anti-LGBT Stance but Allowed to Stay Put

Yoel Shem-Tov, a rabbi for the Border Police, has been told to avoid political subjects after his name appeared on a letter calling LGBT people 'perverts'

The 2018 Gay Pride Parade in Jerusalem
Olivier Fitoussi

The police have reprimanded a Border Police rabbi whose name appears on an anti-LGBT open letter, but the police are letting the rabbi remain in his position.

In a statement Monday, the police said Superintendent Yoel Shem-Tov, who serves as rabbi to Border Police units in the north, was told "to conduct himself in a statesmanlike manner and refrain from publicly expressing an opinion on political subjects, as is expected of every policeman."

Shem-Tov was one of more than 200 rabbis whose name appeared on the letter supporting Jerusalem Rabbi Aryeh Stern, who has come under fire for his criticism of same-sex couples raising children. In the letter, the rabbis blasted organizations fighting for LGBT rights, calling the groups “perverts” and an abomination, and labeling their efforts “aggressive terrorism.”

According to the letter, an attempt is underway in Israel "to destroy the notion of family and turn the perverts into heroes."

Knesset member Revital Swid
David Bachar

After Haaretz asked the police about the appearance of Shem-Tov's name on the letter, disciplinary proceedings were launched against him, though the police declined to disclose the results on the grounds that it was a personal matter.

But the Border Police, a unit of the Israel Police, provided details that Public Security Minister Gilad Erdan passed on to Knesset member Revital Swid (Zionist Union), saying that Shem-Tov's name "was inserted" into the open letter "by mistake." 

Also, it later emerged that Shem-Tov had spoken out on the issue without obtaining permission from the police. He also signed a letter to Justice Minister Ayelet Shaked in July in which religious-Zionist rabbis sought to block approval for an enlarged egalitarian prayer plaza at the Western Wall for Reform and Conservative Jews and the group Women of the Wall.

That letter opposed the plan, saying that it "compounds matters" at a location where prayer is already designated for what the signatories called "an anti-Zionist movement … that is encouraging the assimilation of our people."

This week, Swid called it inappropriate for a police officer to sign a letter calling members of the LGBT community "perverts" and said the argument that Shem-Tov's name appeared on the letter by mistake was baseless. She also criticized the police for allegedly stating that disciplinary action was being taken against him solely "to make it clear to him what the rules are."

For their part, the police said: "After the Border Police clarified the matter, it was decided to file disciplinary proceedings against [Shem-Tov] … but this was not a public proceeding and therefore we cannot comment on the proceedings and their results.

"At the same time, it is important to state that every policeman is expected to conduct himself with the necessary neutrality on every subject, as is appropriate in a democratic country, and it is not appropriate for a policeman to actively take part in public discourse."