Liberman: Religious pre-army groups are 'private militias'

Yisrael Beytenu leader castigates Netanyahu for ‘protection money’ to Gaza, says religious pre-military academies are forming ‘private militias’ within the IDF.

Avigdor Liberman speaks at a press conference, October 22, 2018 (photo credit: MARC ISRAEL SELLEM/THE JERUSALEM POST)
Avigdor Liberman speaks at a press conference, October 22, 2018
Yisrael Beytenu leader MK Avigdor Liberman unleashed a tirade against the conservative wing of the religious-Zionist community, saying its political parties have been taken over by extremists and that religious pre-military academies were creating “religious private militias within the IDF.”
Liberman, who has been on the political war path of late, also blasted Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu for his failure to act over Iran’s nuclear program and against Hamas in Gaza, accusing him of talking too much and acting too little.
The former defense minister also asserted that the haredi (ultra-Orthodox) political parties and the National-Religious parties will sit in the opposition in the next government, saying it was time to “Make Israel normal again,” borrowing from US President Donald Trump’s well-known catchphrase.
His comments were denounced by numerous politicians, including the prime minister, who said Liberman should be “ashamed of himself.”
Speaking on Tuesday, Liberman spent considerable time talking about concerns with the religious pre-military academies, which prepare religious youth for life in the army.
He acknowledged their contribution to helping mold excellent recruits for the IDF and that these institutions should continue their work, but said they had become radicalized.
“We can’t throw out the baby with the bath water,” Liberman said. “Religious pre-military academies have prepared a series of the best, most courageous [IDF] fighters and I hope they continue to operate.
“But today, the story of the religious pre-military academies is that they are developing in the direction of religious private militias, a type of Phalange,” Liberman alleged in reference to the Christian Lebanese militias, which allied with Israel in the 1980s.
The Yisrael Beytenu leader said he had personally spoken to students at one religious pre-military academy, which he did not name, and said that when he asked them if their rabbi and their commanding officer gave them contradictory instructions, who they would obey, some said their rabbi.
“Soldiers have turned over, and are subordinate not to their direct military commander but to a spiritual authority, a rabbi. This is something dangerous, we can’t have this.”
He said the solution was to disconnect the pre-military academies from the Education Ministry, which funds them, and leave them solely in the hands of the Defense Ministry, under whose auspices they operate.
Liberman also took the opportunity to attack Bayit Yehudi, and its partners National Union and the far-right Otzma Yehudit, saying that National-Religious politics were in the hands of extremists.
“The historic National-Religious Party and Bayit Yehudi and the National Union have nothing in common… What we have seen is a small, hard-line, extremist group take control [of the National-Religious political parties],” he said.
Netanyahu, in response, said the National-Religious community had contributed greatly to the IDF and the State of Israel, and listed some of the slain soldiers from the community.
“Someone who attacks the heroes of Israel just to get a few votes should be ashamed of themselves,” said Netanyahu.
New Right Party leader Naftali Bennett said in response that “There are no militias in the IDF,” and that “not everything is kosher to bring votes,” while Bayit Yehudi leader and Education Minister Rabbi Rafi Peretz asserted that the pre-military academies had contributed to the army “like no other educational project.”
Added Peretz: “While Israeli society needs unity and healing of its ruptures, you only fan the flames and deepen the polarization.”
Following the fierce response to his comments, Liberman took to Facebook to defend himself, saying his words had been distorted, insisting that he valued the pre-military academies.
“I meet the students and graduates of the preparatory programs all the time: They are the salt of the earth,” he wrote. “But in order to preserve this tremendous enterprise, they must be cut off from the various Smotriches [referring to URP MK Bezalel Smotrich]. We must distance them from the rabbis who preach values that contradict the IDF’s heritage.
“Yes to a Jewish state, no to a halachic state. Yes to religious Zionism, no to [hard-line] hardalim,” he said, using the term for the more conservative branch of the religious-Zionist movement.
In his address, Liberman also attacked Netanyahu’s record in dealing with both Iran and Hamas in Gaza, and said that he doubted the prime minister was capable of taking the requisite action against Iran in particular, while also alleging that the prime minister had blocked offensive measures against Hamas.
He also claimed that the prime minister was trying to use the Iranian nuclear threat and the recent tensions in the Persian Gulf as part of his election campaign.
“I see that of late we are talking about Iran a lot of the time, and I see even the desire of the prime minister to turn this into part of his political campaign... This is the classic case of talking more and doing less,” said Liberman during his address.
“I have no doubt that the prime minister is the best speaker in the world on the Iranian issue. I have doubts that he is able to do what needs to be done on the practical level,” he continued in a dig at Netanyahu’s much vaunted oratorical prowess.
The Yisrael Beytenu leader also alleged that Netanyahu “stopped all offensive initiatives against Hamas,” adding that “He [Netanyahu] prefers to preserve the quiet at any price.”
Liberman repeated his claim that the Qatari cash delivered to Gaza with the agreement of Israel was protection money to buy off Hamas, but said the money was merely being used by Hamas to further entrench itself in Gaza and build more long-range rockets with which to hit Israel.
“The amazing thing is that the State of Israel is allowing the financing of terrorism against itself. Qatari money isn’t going to the poor. It’s going first of all to financing Hamas’s [military] build up.”