Israeli Right's Clash Over Women in the Army Heats Up

Defense Minister Avigdor Lieberman scolds a rabbi for opposing women’s participation in the military, while Education Minister Naftali Bennett says Lieberman is playing politics.

Naftali Bennett, left, and Avigdor Lieberman in the Knesset, May 14, 2015.
Olivier Fitoussi

The clash between Defense Minister Avigdor Lieberman and Education Minister Naftali Bennett ramped up this week over a premilitary program head’s remarks against women serving in the Israel Defense Forces.

Lieberman told lawmakers from his Yisrael Beiteinu party Monday that people were trying to change the subject from the comments by Rabbi Yigal Levinstein, the head of the premilitary program in the West Bank settlement of Eli.

“I propose that we stay on the subject, which is Rabbi Levinstein’s declaration that Israel’s girls enter the army Jewish and come out not Jewish.”

As Lieberman put it, “Anyone who backs [Levinstein] sacrifices an important premilitary preparation program that has educated hundreds of good soldiers. There’s a problem with a person who works against the values of the IDF.”

Habayit Hayehudi chief Bennett, speaking to his party’s MKs Monday, accused Lieberman of trying to use the army for his political advantage. “The defense minister is working against religious Zionism to rustle up votes and deeply wound the fabric of the army,” Bennett said.

“We have no other army, and of course we won’t lend a hand to this. I ask the prime minister to call [Lieberman] on the carpet to behave responsibly to learn from the IDF chief of staff how to act responsibly regarding the delicate fabric of the State of Israel and the IDF. We all served in the army and all know we have no other IDF, and this isn’t something to play around with.”

Lieberman said Sunday he intended to summon Levinstein to his office for a discussion Tuesday.

Last week Lieberman warned that if Levinson did not resign as head of the Eli yeshiva, he would withdraw the Defense Ministry’s recognition of the yeshiva’s hesder status, which allows for abbreviated military service of 17 months. This is within Lieberman’s purview, but it is a lengthy process and would probably involve legal proceedings.

The Eli premilitary program said last week it only has 15 students in its hesder program.