Leading religious Zionist rabbis on Tuesday accused the IDF of launching a campaign to vilify hesder yeshiva soldiers. They made their accusations a day after the IDF reprimanded a group of mostly religious soldiers who refused an order to help in the evacuation of two Jewish families from the Arab market in Hebron.
The IDF purposely distorted facts that were released to the press about the insubordination incident to give the impression that hesder soldiers, who combine religious studies with army service, were a potentially subversive "fifth column" within the IDF that put rabbinic authority before army orders, rabbis told The Jerusalem Post Tuesday.
According Rabbi David Stav, a spokesman for the hesder yeshivot, the IDF Spokesman reported that 12 hesder soldiers rebelled against their superiors, but in reality there were only three.
"Of these three soldiers, one was a former Gush Katif resident who was expelled during the disengagement and the other one was a resident of Kiryat Arba," he said. The two soldiers had a problem taking part in the evacuation of the families because of their personal backgrounds, he said.
Stav said in addition to the three hesder soldiers - all students at the Otniel Yeshiva near Hebron - there were five more soldiers who refused orders, one of whom was secular.
"Hesder rabbis actually were a moderating element during the conflict," he said, adding that several heads of hesder yeshivot, including Rabbi Haim Druckman, chairman of the Bnei Akiva yeshivot, convinced soldiers to obey orders.
Rabbi Benny Kalmanson, one of the heads of the Otniel Yeshiva, blamed the IDF for purposely creating a conflict with the three hesder yeshiva soldiers to "teach them a lesson."
Sources close to the hesder yeshivot especially blamed OC Central Command Maj.-Gen. Gadi Shamni for forcing the soldiers to obey the orders instead of being sensitive to their personal difficulties and allowing them to back out of the mission. According to the sources, if Shamni had shown more empathy and allowed the soldiers the leeway to be excused, the entire episode would have been avoided.
But IDF sources said the punished soldiers, some of whom were sentenced to a 28-day incarceration, were used as an example to show that the army had zero tolerance for insubordination of any kind.
IDF officers, including OC Human Resources Maj.-Gen. Elazar Stern, who is religious, are concerned that many religious soldiers have more loyalty to their rabbis than to their commanders.
When fighting Palestinian terrorism, religious soldiers - who make up an increasingly higher number of combat soldiers and lower- and middle-rank officers - are highly motivated. But when it comes to evacuating Jews from their homes, these same soldiers are suddenly rebellious.
This unruliness is particularly troubling for IDF officers as peace talks between Prime Minister Ehud Olmert and Palestinian Authority Chairman Mahmoud Abbas heat up and territorial compromises, including the evacuation of Jewish settlements as part of a creation of a Palestinian state, look more likely.
Stav said the vast majority of hesder soldiers will remain loyal to their military superiors not because they put the IDF before G-d. Rather, because G-d, as interpreted by most hesder rabbis, does not condone military insubordination.
Judging from the performance of the vast majority of religious soldiers during disengagement, Stav is right. But judging from the rise in popularity since disengagement of rabbis such as Elyakim Levanon of Elon Moreh and Dov Lior of Hebron-Kiryat Arba, who were, and still are, openly opposed to using the IDF to evacuate Jews from their homes, perhaps the IDF has reason to be concerned.