Following the publication and public condemnation of Rabbi Yigal Levinstein's homophobic statements in what has been coined "the 'Perverts' speech," the IDF announced on Tuesday morning its decision to reevaluate its collaboration with him. The reevaluation will examine, inter alia, his visiting military bases throughout the country and lecturing students.
A decision will be taken after Levinstein clarifies his controversial pronouncements. Despite this, Head of the Manpower Directorate Maj. Gen. Hagi Topolanski canceled his scheduled Tuesday-morning visit to the Bnei David Yeshiva's pre-army program, run by Levinstein.
On Monday, the Ministry of Defense condemned the rabbi following Ynet's contacting them for comment. The ministry's director general, Maj. Gen. Udi Adam, instructed its Defense Social Branch, which is responsible for the re-army preparatory programs, to seek clarifications from the Bnei David pre-army preparatory yeshiva. The yeshiva receives half of its funding from the Defense Ministry. The ministry did not reply to Ynet's query regarding the future of Bnei David if the rabbi does not retract his earlier statements.
The IDF's policy of inclusivity remains unchanged, despite Levinstein's criticism of the military's liberal policy towards LGBT soldiers. It intends to continue its collaboration with LGBT organizations and their involvement in the army. The IDF has not yet officially condemned the rabbi's statements.
However, there are those who do condemn them off the record. Said an IDF officer to Ynet, "As the head of a distinguished pre-army preparatory yeshiva like the one at Bnei David, he has a huge influence with his words on hundreds and thousands of soldiers and commanders, in active and reserves service, Bnei David alumni, part of who have become company commanders and battalion commanders.
"What will a (Bnei David) alumnus think, who today is a platoon commander in Golani or Givati, with Rabbi Levinstein being considered his rabbi, when a recuit comes to him and says that he's having problems dealing because of homophobic statements against him?
"How will that platoon commander respond if the unit's education officer asks him to host a lecture for his soldiers on the rights of LGBT soldiers? Rabbi Levinstein's Bnei David has produced the best officers for select IDF unites in recent years, so his statements are echoing and seeping in a lot more than another homophobic statement of a neighborhood rabbi or city rabbi."
The same anonymous source recalled that a few weeks ago, the Chief of Staff Lt. Gen. Gadi Eisenkot visited the preparatory yeshiva, spoke with the students there and was photographed with Levinstein. The yeshiva's website showcases Levinstein's visits on IDF bases, and the lectures that he gives to soldiers and officers are regular occurrences. Amongst the subjects that the rabbi has lectured on are leadership, values, and command dilemmas.
"It would be enough if one of his students, who has become a commander, will be influenced by his words and will display this towards his soldier 'perverts'—then the damage could be irreversible," said the officer.
Levinstein's comments came following IDF policy evolution in recent years. Indeed, the IDF has done so to such an extent that in a NATO military conference, IDF Chief of Staff Advisor on Gender Issues Brig. Gen. Rachel Tevet-Wiesel was asked by her colleagues in other western armies to learn how they could facilitate LGBT soldiers in passing their service with as much significance as their comrades in arms.
Kobi Nachshoni contributed to this report.