Former IDF Chief Rabbi Replaces Bennett as Habayit Hayehudi Chairman

'Clearly nationalist' Rafi Peretz is considered much more conservative than the education minister, who split to form a new party ahead of the election

Rafi Peretz reacts after being elected Habayit Hayehudi chairman, Bar-Ilan University in central Israel, February 4, 2019.
Meged Gozani

Rabbi Rafi Peretz, a former Israel Air Force helicopter pilot and former chief military rabbi, was appointed chairman of Habayit Hayehudi on Monday by the party’s central committees, ahead of Israel's April 9 general election.

Peretz replaces Education Minister Naftali Bennett, who broke away from Habayit Hayehudi to form a new party, Hayamin Hehadash, with Justice Minister Ayelet Shaked.

>> Read more: Life after Bennett: Controversial lawmaker elected chair of National Union party

The new chairman is considered much more conservative than Bennett, who stressed that Habayit Hayehudi was not only for the Orthodox. Peretz has been defined by one member of the Habayit Hayehudi Central Committee as “clearly nationalist ultra-Orthodox.”

Peretz, 62, is a brigadier general in the reserves. After he retired from the air force, in 1992 he established a pre-military preparation academy at the outpost of Atzmona in the Gush Katif settlement bloc in the southern Gaza Strip. During Israel's disengagement from the Strip in 2005, Peretz said that soldiers must obey orders when required to evacuate settlers said should be no violent opposition to evacuation.

His appointment as chief military rabbi sparked a firestorm because of his involvement as a helicopter pilot in an incident in 1992 in which members of the IDF’s 669 rescue unit, Gil Tzuriel and Assaf Nussbaum, were killed when the cable attaching them to the helicopter snapped during training. Peretz was tried based on the findings of an external investigation committee and received a reprimand.

The families of the two soldiers killed petitioned the High Court of Justice against his appointment as chief IDF rabbi because they said he had not acted quickly enough to evacuate them. However, the court declined to intervene, citing Peretz’s contributions to society and the army after the incident, and stating that the investigative committee had placed no restrictions on his advancement.

During Peretz’s term as chief rabbi he confirmed orders requiring Orthodox soldiers to take part in official events where women sang, an action considered improper in some Orthodox circles.

In a lecture to the Atzmona pre-military academy in southern Israel in 2014, he told students that “90 percent of the Arabs don’t know what’s written in the Koran", and said that except for the Al-Aqsa Mosque, “the rest of the Temple Mount has no religious significance” for Muslims.

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