Defense Minister Ehud Barak has decided to remove the Har Bracha yeshiva from an arrangement with the Israel Defense Forces over its support for insubordination among soldiers. The decision was made after the yeshiva head, Rabbi Eliezer Melamed, refused to attend a hearing scheduled for Sunday evening at the Defense Ministry.
The defense minister's office said in a statement that Barak has instructed the army to work to remove the yeshiva from the arrangement within a reasonable period of time, which will allow Har Bracha students to choose whether to integrate in another hesder yeshiva.
The decision was made following the IDF chief's recommendation, the defense minister's meeting with rabbis of the Hesder Yeshivot Union and after Barak examined all the considerations and aspects of the matter.
"Minister Barak views any phenomenon of disobedience and will not accept any deviation from what he defines as a red line," the statement said. "The defense minister rules that Rabbi Melamed's actions and remarks undermine the foundations of Israeli democracy and have encouraged and incited some of his students to insubordination, protests and harming the IDF's spirit, and there is no room for this in a normal country."
The yeshiva refused to issue an official response to the decision, saying they had not been informed of the move, but one of the rabbi's associates said that "he was targeted by the high ranks of command", accusing Barak of thwarting the attempts to hold an honorable dialogue.
Sources close to the rabbi said that only one soldier from the Har Bracha yeshiva participated in the protest sign incidents. They also noted that the rabbi expressed his opposition to political protest in the army a month and a half ago in his weekly column in the "Besheva" newspaper.
One of the rabbi's aides said earlier that the "defense minister has probably forgotten that yeshiva heads don’t work for him and has therefore chosen to engage in an improper style of setting an ultimatum through the media and scheduling a hearing. The rabbi will not partake in such a discourse."
Dozens of yeshivot and thousands of students are included in the hesder arrangement. The course is constructed of four years, 18 months of which are spent in routine IDF service and an additional two and a half years in service without pay. The arrangement's aim is to allow members of the religious Zionism to take part in meaningful combat service without compromising their Torah studies.
The Har Bracha yeshiva was created 18 years ago and is currently attended by 250 students, out of which more than 100 are at various stages of the hesder course. It is considered by many as an affiliate yeshiva of the Har Bracha yeshiva in Beit El headed by Rabbi Eliezer Melamed's father. Melamed senior is one of the leading rabbis of the national-religious faction within the religious Zionism.
Rabbi Melamed instructs his students to embark on academic studies after completing the five years of Torah studies and IDF service in order to integrate in the "real world." For this purpose the yeshiva operates a course which combines academic studies with Torah studies. Only a handful of the graduates continue on to fulltime yeshiva studies.
'Barak causing rift in army'
Right-wing elements warned Sunday evening that Barak's decision would cause a rift among the Israeli people and damage the army. They referred to the move as "hypocritical" and "anti-democratic" and said that it stemmed from personal motives.
Extreme right-wing activist Baruch Marzel said that "the Barak and Netanyahu government has declared a war on God, his Torah and his land." He added that "the gloves must be taken off and a war must be launched against this hostile regime, because we are all Har Bracha. Barak will dismantle the IDF."
The Legal Forum for the Land of Israel was slightly gentler than Marzel, but said that Barak's actions were "anti-democratic."
The Forum said in a statement that "the minister couldn't care less about the law when it relates to him, and is strict when it relates to political opponents. The defense minister must not use his authority to impose political opinions on rabbis."
According to the statement, Barak's move will lead to a dispute among the people of Israel and harm the army.
The Binyamin and Samaria Settlers' Committee issued a statement saying that "Barak's arrogant decision to close Har Bracha creates an unnecessary rift among the people and will only harm the army. Barak, in his usual obtuseness, is speeding up the disconnection between the IDF and the Jewish settlers, who bring out the best fighters."
The Committee called on all hesder yeshivot to support Rabbi Melamed and denounce Barak's conduct.
Gershon Mesika, head of the Shomron Regional Council slammed Barak's decision as "hypocritical." Mesika said that the defense minister was "sucking up to the social milieu of universities whose professors incite against the existence of the State of Israel and against IDF service."
He further added that the defense minister was "persecuting an educational establishment of the first order which has yielded hundreds of the best combat officers." Rabbi Melamed, he said, was "one of the greatest men of education and one of the most influential rabbis in our generation."
Knesset Member Michael Ben Ari (National Union) said that Barak, "in his aggressive way," was harming the security of the State of Israel. He added that the IDF and the State would be hurt as a result of the decision.
"Annulling the arrangement with the heroes of Har Bracha yeshiva is a predatory acty aimed at bolstering the ego of a politician who is about to end his career."
End to relations?
An ultimatum set by Deputy Defense Minister Matan Vilnai, which was due to expire Sunday evening, demanded that the rabbi align himself with the approach adopted by the Hesder Yeshivot Union. The union condemned the disobedience phenomenon in the Israel Defense Forces, as part of which soldiers held signs in protest of settlement evacuation.
Sources close to the rabbi said that members of the Har Bracha yeshiva are resigned with the decision to disassociate them from the hesder course after Rabbi Melamed refused to condemn insubordination.
The defense minister has decided to act on his threat of stopping the army's endorsement of hesder yeshivas which encourage insubordination, following recent incidents in the IDF of soldiers promising to not follow orders which require the evacuation Jews from settlements.
Those soldiers consequently received awards from right-wing groups for their statements. Barak was meant to decide on the matter following his meeting with Rabbi Melamed.
The affair began after the rabbi openly supported his students' displays of disobedience. He initially refused to attend the meeting with Barak and claimed that the minister has no authority to conduct a hearing.
Last week, Central Command Chief Avi Mizrahi recommended ending relations with the yeshiva in light of Melamed's statements.
Barak met with five rabbis of the Hesder Yeshivas Union last week and praised their students. Nevertheless, the minister stressed that the army would not tolerate political protests or insubordination.
The rabbis agreed with him and condemned Rabbi Melamed, but emphasized that freedom of Torah must be allowed in the same way that the IDF allows academic institutions with which it is in contact to preach for disobedience.
Efrat Weiss and Kobi Nahshoni contributed to this report