Israel's State-funded Homophobia

A senior figure in Israel's network of premilitary academies has called members of the LGBT community 'perverts.' As long as taxpayers fund part of his salary, he cannot remain in his post.

Haaretz Editorial
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An Israeli couple kisses during the annual gay pride parade in Jerusalem, July 29, 2010.
An Israeli couple kisses during the annual gay pride parade in Jerusalem, July 29, 2010.Credit: AP
Haaretz Editorial

The words of Rabbi Yig’al Levenstein, cofounder of the premilitary academy in the West Bank settlement of Eli, clearly demonstrate the culture war now being fought in Israel – between those who seek equal rights and freedoms, and those who sanctify the hatred and persecution of the other.

At a conference in Jerusalem last Wednesday devoted to “dealing with the impact of Reform Judaism on Israel’s Jewish nature,” Levenstein said that the values of the Israel Defense Forces, led by its Education Corps, have changed. This is reflected, he said, by educating toward religious pluralism and recognition of the LGBT community, describing the latter as “perverts.” “It is an insane movement whose members have lost the normalcy of life. This group makes the country mad and has now penetrated the IDF in full force – and no one dares voice an opinion and mock it. In the army’s officer training base, there are even lectures given by perverts,” he added.

Levenstein is the latest link in a chain of religious-Zionist leaders who believe they need to dictate to the rest of Israel their narrow interpretation of the past, present and future. Such a confusion of values and misconceptions can only flourish with the support of the government, which allocates their budgets and promotes their followers.

In 1988, Rabbi Levenstein, together with Rabbi Eli Sadan, established the Bnei David Academy in Eli, the first of its kind. It became a central educational institute for religious Zionism. During the last Independence Day celebrations, Sadan received the Israel Prize for lifetime achievement.

Levenstein is no “wild weed.” No convoluted halakhic casuistry or excuses need be used to legitimize his words, as was done in the case of the newly designated chief military rabbi, Col. Eyal Karim. Levenstein holds a senior position in the network of premilitary academies (21 out of 48 of which are designated as religious), which are under the joint responsibility and are jointly funded by the defense and education ministries. His benighted declarations cannot hide behind an ideological-educational “autonomy” as long as they are funded by the state.

A feeble response or a rolling of the eyes will only confirm where the Netanyahu-Bennett-Lieberman government’s heart really lies with regard to the LGBT community. No video or propaganda stunt will be able to conceal this.

After the rabbi’s words entered the public realm, Education Minister Naftali Bennett tweeted an indirect condemnation (“Every person born in God’s image is beloved, regardless of sexual orientation, skin color or belief”). Defense Minister Avigdor Lieberman should also speak out. Levenstein cannot remain in his post after the hateful words he uttered, as long as taxpayers’ money funds part of his salary.

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