Top Israeli Commander 'Not Allowed' to Address Students at Religious Pre-army Academy

In April, Paz-Tzuk visited the Bnei David premilitary academy in the settlement of Eli. But after a meeting with the school's leaders turned hostile, they refused to let him meet the students.

Premilitary academy head Yigal Levinstein at a conference in Jerusalem in July 2016.
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Last week’s verbal attack on two senior army officers by one of the heads of a premilitary academy was preceded by two tense visits to the school by the officers in question.

In a speech last week, Rabbi Yigal Levinstein blasted developments in the Israel Defense Forces since Lt. Gen. Gadi Eisenkot became chief of staff. He also fingered Chief Education Officer Brig. Gen. Avner Paz-Tzuk as the person most responsible for these developments – particularly its openness to gays, whom he called “perverts.”

In April, Paz-Tzuk visited the Bnei David premilitary academy in the settlement of Eli. He was supposed to have met with the students, as he has done many times before. But he first met with the school’s leaders – Levinstein and Rabbi Eli Sadan – and this meeting turned so hostile that they refused to let him meet the students. An associate of Paz-Tzuk’s said he was “hurt” by the decision.

Bnei David said the meeting was canceled solely because the meeting with Sadan and Levinstein ran late, leaving no time for it. The rabbis deemed it important to talk with Paz-Tzuk “about the politicization and reeducation of IDF soldiers,” it added.

In last week’s speech, Levinstein said Paz-Tzuk had made it clear that “he sees educating religious pluralism as a value; he sees educating acceptance of the other as a value, in the context of human rights, getting to know those who are different – and the perverts are, of course, the flagship in this realm.”

Another point of dispute, Haaretz has learned, was the Witnesses in Uniform program, under which the Education Corps takes officers to visit Nazi concentration camps. The rabbis specifically objected to the use of Christopher Browning’s book “Ordinary Men,” which describes ordinary Germans drafted into the reserves who became mass murderers. In his speech last week, Levinstein said the book’s use was aimed at making sure “we don’t become Nazis.”

Bnei David’s leaders plan to send a letter to students and graduates in the near future to clarify their positions. But it isn’t expected to include an apology by Levinstein.

Eisenkot’s visit to Bnei David in May was less confrontational, and he did address the students for about an hour. He said he would like to see the army “united around its goal – protecting the state, ensuring its existence. The schisms in Israeli society, and the debate over religion and state, should be conducted by its citizens – until age 19 and after age 21,” he continued. “Within the IDF, I don’t see any place for this debate.”

But when he opened the floor to questions, several students challenged the army’s policy on various issues, including his decision to transfer the Jewish Identity branch from the Military Rabbinate to the Education Corps.

Eisenkot responded that Jewish identity “isn’t a matter for either education officers or rabbis. Jewish Identity [branch] has been rooted in the army since its founding and is implemented by its commanders.”

He also said he wanted to avoid duplication, since both the Education Corps and rabbinate were conducting Jewish identity activities, and “to seek the unifying and the cohesive” rather than having each side bring in lecturers who supported their own positions – a situation in which “for every Shabbat in a Reform institution, there must be a Shabbat in an Orthodox institution. And for every lecturer who’s a rabbi, you need to bring in a professor from the other side. ... Anything that divides us, from either side, shouldn’t be in the army.”

The IDF rejected Haaretz’s request to interview Paz-Tzuk about Levinstein’s statements.