Israeli Ministers Attack Negative Statements About Gays by Rabbi Who Heads pre-IDF Academy

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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

A number of Israeli ministers have condemned statements made by Rabbi Yig'al Levinstein, in which he repeatedly referred to gays as "perverts." Education Minister Naftali Bennett called the comments “unacceptable" and the police minister labeled them "dangerous," vowing to go on with the plan to hold a gay pride parade in Jerusalem this week.

Levinstein, head of the Bnei David pre-military academy in the West Bank settlement of Eli and a leading rabbi of the Religious Zionism movement, made the remarks in a video that surfaced on Sunday and in which he also voiced criticism of the Israeli army's attempts to minimize civilian deaths.

Naftali Bennett speaks at the Knesset, May 30, 2016.Credit: Isaac Harari, Knesset Spokesperson's Office

Such statements are "not the way of the Religious Zionist [movement],” the education minister said at a news conference in the Knesset on Monday.

“Halakha [Jewish law] is meant to determine what is forbidden and what is permissible, and is not intended to serve as a tool that divides and labels people, identities or communities," he continued. "It is impossible to call an entire community by a derogatory name and hide behind the halakha. What was said is unacceptable to me,” said Bennett.

Life is much more complex than what is forbidden and what is permitted, said Bennett. “True, there are explicit Torah prohibitions but we don't expel everyone who violates a Torah prohibition. As education minister I am saying this clearly: The children of Israel must know that they all — all of them — are loved, we respect everyone of them and in our [educational] system there is room for every one of them.”

Public Security Minister Gilad Erdan.Credit: Olivier Fitoussi

Defense Minister Avigdor Lieberman also commented on Levinstein’s statements, saying the rabbi "failed, but his statements do not represent the important work of the 51 pre-military academies,” he told the Knesset Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee.

“In every large system, there are mistakes and negative elements,” said Lieberman. He told the committee he would conduct a thorough examination of the matter. “There is certainly no place to attack entire communities and we are committed to tolerance towards everyone; but as far as the pre-military academies are concerned, we must not throw out the baby with the bathwater,“ he said. The 54 academies have 3,750 students, he added.

Public Security Minister Erdan also commented on the issue, and wrote on his Facebook page that Levinstein’s comments were “dangerous.” Erdan added that the Jerusalem gay pride parade will be held on Thursday, and he is very familiar with the sensitivity and tension involved in the preparations for the event. "We must be very careful not to place any ideas in the head of some crazy zealot," wrote Erdan. “Let us respect every person, their choices, identity, beliefs. We believe that this is the role of rabbis too.”

Culture and Sports Minister Miri Regev also spoke out on the matter. She stated that Levinstein’s remarks were hateful, hurtful and inappropriate for an educator and public figure.

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