Labor leader Avi Gabbay speaks at a faction meeting.
(photo credit: MARC ISRAEL SELLEM/THE JERUSALEM POST)
Zionist Union chairman Avi Gabbay attacked the rabbinic leadership of the conservative wing of the National Religious community on Tuesday, lambasting them as being extremist and lacking moral courage.
And he likened their silence in the face of political incitement, and their participation in extremist and inflammatory declarations and policies, to the behavior of hard-line National Religious leaders during the time of the Oslo Accords prior to the November 1995 assassination of prime minister Yitzhak Rabin.
Gabbay, speaking at the Jerusalem Conference of the Besheva conservative National Religious newspaper, listed a series of incidents in recent months when hard-line rabbis have made controversial comments, and accused their colleagues of failing to reprimand them.
“In recent years, in every argument within Israeli society the presence of conservative National Religious rabbis stands out, and it stands out, unfortunately, mostly when it is divisive, extremists, discriminatory and incites,” Gabbay told the audience.
The Zionist Union chairman blasted comments last year by prominent educator Rabbi Yigal Levenstein who disparaged women who serve in the IDF and said they become non-Jews, and pointed to the same rabbi’s attacks on the LGBT community, as well as demands by Safed Chief Rabbi Shmuel Eliyahu to fire the IDF chief of staff over the issue of mixed-gender service.
Gabbay said that in all these instances and others, the leading rabbis failed to issue any rebuke and were silent.
He also admonished the conservative National Religious rabbis for ignoring and insulting people within their community, saying that the time had come for the sector to realize that there are LGBTs among them, “and they are no less good than anyone else,” and scolding the community for being silent in the face of comments by another prominent educator that women have weak minds and cannot achieve spiritual heights.
And, the Zionist Union leader said, the sector’s rabbis also remained silent “when the prime minister and [his] ministers incite against half the Jewish people, and label them as being traitors and enemies,” in reference to the attacks of leading government figures against the Left.
Gabbay compared the situation to that during the time of the Oslo Accords and said that the rabbis were making the same mistakes again.
“This silence reverberated in the days of Oslo, and reached its zenith before the murder of [Rabin], and perhaps then you did a communal self-accounting, but it passed the moment you returned to positions of power,” he said.
And he denounced the rabbis for contributing toward discrimination against Reform and Conservative Jews at the Western Wall, and argued that it was not based on religious law at all and was simply extremism.
Gabbay also castigated hardline rabbis for their silence in the face of corruption by public officials on the Right.
“When public figures from “the right political side” are suspected of severe crimes, crimes of personal corruption, hedonism, receiving favors and corruption of the moral values of public service, you are also silent,” railed Gabbay.
“By God, when will you stop being silent? When did you give abandon the Jewish people?” he asked.
Gabbay also noted the proclivity among the conservative National Religious community to separate boys and girls even in kindergarten and elementary schools, and in youth groups, and what he described as growing extremism throughout the community.
The Zionist Union and Labor Party chairman ended his onslaught by saying that he believed there were many moderate voices within the National Religious community, and he called on them to make themselves heard to counter the more radical elements in the sector.
“Friends, Israeli society needs healing and a repair of its fractures, not more incitement, division and hatred...
The special mosaic [of Israeli society]... wants its representatives, and its rabbis, to stop speaking in terms of us and them, and instead take part in building a future together for all parts of Israeli society,” he said.