Omer Nahmany, who currently leads the project “Pride x2 to Israel” to double the number of publicly out LGBT people in the army, writes about the cultural battle against religious extremists in Israeli army
Last week the Israeli media published words said by Rabbi Zvi Tau, founder of the religious Zionist yeshiva of Har Hamor. He is considered the rabbi of numerous army officers and soldiers. Among other things, he said that by adopting of liberal values the Israeli army has lost humanity. Rabbi Tau also went out against “secular extremists”, saying they had taken over the High Court, the Ministry of Education and the media.
These words shed more light on a culture war that is raging in Israel in recent years, an ideological war that is being waged on several fronts in parallel – in the media, in courts, in politics, in the education system and in the military.
On one side of the trenches stands a radical faction of religious Zionism, the ultra-Orthodox national religious community. In this faction there are radical rabbis and public figures who love the complete land of Israel, but hate the people of Israel living in it. They are not large in terms of numbers, but they have great influence on religious Zionism as a whole.
Their main rabbi, Rabbi Tau, is less familiar to the secular public, partly because he is not outspoken publicly very often. This is a powerful leader, who became a pilgrimage source for many Knesset members of the Jewish Home Party and other leaders of religious Zionism. Rabbi Tau and his students (including Rabbi Yigal Levenstein, who called the gay community “perverts”, and Rabbi Shlomo Aviner, who claimed that the joint service command for both men and women in the IDF is wrong, and that women can vote, but not be elected to the Knesset) wish to make The State of Israel a racist state.
In recent years the struggle for the characteristics of Israel invaded the ranks of the Israel Defense Forces. Absurdly, the IDF today is one of the bastions of liberalism and pluralism in Israel. The IDF is not perfect, far from it, and it has many challenges and quite a few shortcomings, but it has become an anchor of equality, preventing Israel from drifting towards regions of extreme segregation and religion, while the winds of violence and racism from the far-right threaten to undermine the basic values on which Israeli society is based.
The IDF is one of the most significant meeting points of Israeli society. Boys and girls who come into the IDF shape their worldview of values and ideology based on meetings that occur in the army. In the army, stereotypes and prejudices shatter and unlikely friendships form, not based on geography, ethnicity, social class, gender or sexual orientation, but rather on the basis of direct personal encounters between people in the crucible of the IDF.
The army makes a great effort to incorporate as many groups as possible within the military service. It increases the quota of fighters and integrates them into units that were previously closed to them. It has established an integration of the gay and transgender community among its ranks and helps disadvantaged soldiers, new immigrants and non Jewish soldiers to fit in and find their way through their military service. For many male and female soldiers, the IDF is more than a place to serve in, it is a real home.
Rabbi Tau probably understands that in the military service, the meeting between his yeshiva students and LGBT people, or female soldiers, or Reform Jewish soldiers- may weaken the isolationism that he’s trying to instill in his students to blindly follow his way and to rely on his exclusive position and power. He tries to exclude women from the army, inciting against the gay community and discredit the army commanders. He thinks that if he eliminates the secular and liberal from the IDF, his racist and violent way will prevail.
For now, Rabbi Tau is losing this war, even if he can chalk up a few victories in battle. But the processes of radicalization in the discourse about the army and attempts to influence commanders may soon infiltrate the entire institution of the IDF, making it G-d’s Army and not the army of the people of Israel.