ULTRA-ORTHODOX MEN walk past soldiers at the Kotel in Jerusalem.
(photo credit: REUTERS)
In the weekly survey by the religious sector that was published last weekend, 65% of religious Zionists said they are convinced that there is an effort to keep them out of top positions in the IDF and expressed “a feeling of disappointment at the IDF’s ungratefulness.” The IDF’s ungratefulness? Have we lost our minds? We are against the IDF? Last week, MK Moti Yogev yelled from the Knesset podium about a feeling of persecution among religious soldiers. “There are officers and soldiers who feel that they and their heritage are under attack," he said. He claimed there is no less than an "organized campaign against religion and against a sector which only wants to contribute to the state and the IDF, in the best way possible.”
Moreover, he flaunted two mythological images from the Knesset podium. In the first, the late rabbi Shlomo Goren is seen grasping a Torah during the liberation of the Kotel and in the second, Rabbi Hillel Unsdorfer goes into Egyptian captivity during the Yom Kippur War with a Torah in his hands while trying to say that the IDF is against Torah. The IDF, the Bayit Yehudi member claims, is conducting a battle against Judaism. No less.
Yogev based his claims on new regulations for how the IDF can receive donations. He ignored the many sections and focused only on the (temporary) restriction on the ritual of bringing new Torah scrolls into the IDF.
When I confronted him with the true content of the document and with his incitement, he opted not to react and left the Knesset plenum. I reminded him that only a few days earlier, the chief of staff requested that politicians not use the IDF to advance their political agendas.
This battle burst into our lives during the “beards storm” in the IDF, despite the fact that it is clear to anyone who is slightly familiar with the military that a soldier who grows a beard due to religion will continue doing so. He continued slandering high ranking officers – from Chief of Staff Lt.- Gen. Gadi Eisenkot to the head of the Manpower Directorate. Maj.-Gen. Hagai Topolansky to Chief Education Officer Brig.-Gen.
Avner Paz Tzuk. In the Shabbat magazines and the religious sector websites, they have all been turned into enemies of Judaism.
Since the birth of the state, religious Zionism has played a central role in the people’s army. When I sat around the IDF General Staff table, together with two of my friends from the Netiv Meir yeshiva high school I attended, we didn’t see ourselves as representatives of the sector or the yeshiva.
Still today, I am not convinced we got to our positions thanks to Netiv Meir or due to our upbringing at home or the spirit of religious Zionism in those days. We were servants of the public and not of the sector.
I am convinced these words are true today for the many officers who graduated from the religious Zionism education system and hold key roles in the IDF chain of command.
This combination, of playing the victim and being arrogant, is a dangerous combination for the State of Israel. This extreme minority group is instigating a battle within the religious Zionist camp and between it and Israeli society at large. The potential damage is enormous.
Many of us pin the destruction of Jerusalem on the story of an unjustified hatred between Kamtza and Bar Kamtza, or being even more precise on the hatred that the wealthy master had for Bar Kamtza. But the truth is, Bar Kamtza’s motivation to libel did not come from a love or hatred, but rather because of the silence of Jerusalem scholars in light of the injustice he suffered. Devastation and destruction are not always a result of actions. In fact, they are often a result of silence, especially when leaders and scholars remain silent in light of a grave injustice.
The silence of rabbis and central religious Zionist leaders in the face of the onslaught on the IDF and its commanders is deafening.
The extremists succeed in pressuring the Bayit Yehudi leadership, by exploiting the fact they are a well-organized group awaiting its marching orders, and weak politicians cave in.
The IDF is the only place in the state of Israel where racism, arrogance and the battles between the different sectors in the nation stay off of the military base. And now, after 68 years of a “melting pot,” people from within are trying to create a sense of discrimination among young religious Zionists and to polarize in the most inclusive place in Israeli society.
When I was the IDF chief education officer, we set down the essence of the IDF’s role: “A nation builds an army which builds a nation”. This is the time to tell those perpetuating hatred and encouraging polarization: this is a two-way street. Hurting the IDF hurts the entire Israeli society, and vice versa. Now is the time to stop the incitement before it is too late.
Maj.-Gen. (res.) Elazar Stern is an MK with Yesh Atid and a former head of the IDF Manpower Directorate.