Settler Rabbis to Tell Barak: Don't Oust Extremist Yeshivas

Meeting called to discuss protests against settlement evacuation by yeshiva students in the army.

The heads of the nation's hesder yeshivas, which combine Torah study with army service, plan to urge Defense Minister Ehud Barak today not to remove the Har Bracha yeshiva from the hesder program.

The meeting, which will take place in Barak's Tel Aviv office, was called to discuss recent protests against settlement evacuation by hesder students serving in the army's Kfir Brigade, as well as statements by two heads of hesder yeshivas - Rabbi Eliezer Melamed of Har Bracha and Rabbi Elyakim Levanon of Elon Moreh - urging soldiers to refuse to evacuate outposts.

Melamed, who also accused senior Israel Defense Forces officers of corruption and political bias, particularly outraged the IDF's top brass with statements he made, leading Chief of Staff Gabi Ashkenazi to recommend ousting his yeshiva from the hesder program. Barak is now considering this proposal.

No yeshiva has ever before been ousted from the hesder program, though the defense minister is authorized to do so. Following the disengagement from Gaza in 2005, then-chief of staff Dan Halutz recommended removing four yeshivas whose rabbis urged soldiers to refuse to evacuate settlements, but then-defense minister Shaul Mofaz decided against doing so. Defense Ministry officials predict that Barak will ultimately reach the same decision, to avoid open conflict with the yeshivas.

The five yeshiva heads who will meet Barak today - members of the executive council of the Association of Hesder Yeshivas - plan to stress that Elon Moreh and Har Bracha are a tiny minority of Israel's 62 hesder yeshivas. Nevertheless, they will say, they oppose any effort to dictate what a rabbi may say to his students.

"In recent weeks, we have taken a public stance against demonstrations and refusal [to evacuate settlements] and sent an orderly letter to all the yeshiva heads," a senior association official said. "We've also spoken with the relevant yeshiva heads and told them there is no place for such acts. But on the other hand, we absolutely cannot accept threats against yeshiva heads. Freedom of expression is very important."

"The army has not severed ties with any university or lecturer who calls for refusal," he added, referring to left-wing academics who advocate refusing to serve in the territories.

Dr. Aviad Hacohen, dean of Sha'arei Mishpat College, condemned the proposed ouster as "bolshevism." It is also counterproductive, he said, as it will merely cause the hesder yeshivas to close ranks.