Hesder Yeshivas Aid Far-right Israeli Party Flouting Military Election Rules

Josh Breiner
Josh Breiner
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lawmaker Bezalel Smotrich, in August.
lawmaker Bezalel Smotrich, in August.Credit: Adina Valman / Knesset
Josh Breiner
Josh Breiner

Two weeks before the Israeli election, the far-right Religious Zionism party is still holding meetings at hesder yeshivas around the country, violating army rules banning soldiers from political activity.

Hesder yeshivas combine religious study with military service and receive Defense Ministry funding, and their students are considered service members.

Army laws bar soldiers from participating in political activity and hesder yeshiva students are subject to these rules.

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“Hesder yeshiva soldiers are soldiers in every respect and army orders apply to them, including the orders forbidding any activity of a political nature,” The Israel Defense Forces Spokesperson’s Unit said.

On their visits to hesder yeshivas, the Religious Zionism party Knesset candidates were accompanied by Rabbi Haim Drukman, who heads the Or Etzion hesder yeshiva and also chairs the Association of Hesder Yeshivot. Nevertheless, he has publicly supported Religious Zionism in his lectures and urged students to help the party, which is led by lawmaker Bezalel Smotrich.

On Sunday, party candidates visited hesder yeshivas in the West Bank settlements of Itamar, Elon Moreh, Kfar Tapuah and Otniel, as well as the Sha’alvim and Kerem B’Yavneh hesder yeshivas. The meetings with students and rabbis took place in the yeshivas’ study halls.

Visits to additional hesder yeshivas were scheduled for Monday and Tuesday.

On Monday morning, the party posted a video of Sunday’s visits as part of its campaign messaging, headed “Campaign of Religious Zionism’s rabbis.”

At some yeshivas, students have been recruited for open political activity on Religious Zionism’s behalf. They have been calling potential voters and plan to volunteer on Election Day (March 23).

One hesder yeshiva student who requested anonymity criticized the visits. “We’ve become a tool of Smotrich’s political propaganda,” he said. “With all due respect for Rabbi Drukman, the yeshiva shouldn’t be turned into a tool to promote Smotrich’s agenda.”

Referring to the left-wing Labor Party’s chairwoman he added, “Would they let Merav Michaeli come speak here?”

Sunday’s visits took place even though the military had ordered the Association of Hesder Yeshivot to stop all political activity after Smotrich visited the hesder yeshiva in the town of Sderot a few weeks ago. The army said at the time that it expects the yeshivas to uphold the rules that apply to all soldiers during election campaigns.

The IDF Spokesperson’s Unit said that after the first incident, it asked the association to make it clear to all the hesder yeshivas that they are forbidden to engage in political activity. In light of this new incident, “The IDF has held another conversation with the yeshiva association and explained the prohibition on soldiers’ participation in such activity in a clear, unambiguous manner.”

No response had been received from the association.

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