Rabbi Yigal Levinstein
Ben-Dror Yemini
And a big thanks to Rabbi Levinstein
Op-ed: Sometimes, extremists like anti-gay Rabbi Yigal Levinstein manage to motivate the moderate majority, who should be the leading voice in Israeli society.

Yigal Levinstein, who I will refer to as Rabbi, deserves a big "thank you." His recent comments referring to members of the gay community as "perverts" has started a public debate about what is already an ongoing battle within the religious Zionist community, between its more radicalized sector that is increasingly becoming more nationalistic and Haredi, to its more moderate sector made up of lenient Beit Hillel rabbis and some of the more progressive Tzohar rabbis. While the former group are more messianic and abide by such texts as "Torat Hamelech" (which details in what cases Jews are allowed to kill non-Jews during times of war), there are rabbis who do not fear modern progress, and who combine Judaism with the love of man, denouncing racist interpretations offered up by extremists.



Though it was never his intention, Levinstein's comments managed to greatly encourage the moderate sector: in the past few days, more and more religious people have declared their intention to march in a Gay Pride parade, citing the Good Samaritan Law and "Love they neighbor and thyself" as Jewish rules to live by. This more inclusive stance was also promoted by Education Minister Naftali Bennett (Bayit Yehudi), who stated, "I want to clearly tell all the children of Israel that they are loved and respected, and that our system has a place for each and every one of them." By contrast, national-religious rabbis who are making every effort to cause Jews to feel an aversion to Judaism, have inadvertently managed to distance not the secular Jewish sector, but traditional-religious Jews. It is precisely these moderates who must not give up the fight.

Rabbi Yigal Levinstein
Rabbi Yigal Levinstein


The recent awakening of religious moderates highlights an important fact: namely, that Israeli society has a normal distribution of opinions. We are neither primarily radical nor fanatical, and just as is the case in Europe, we have our share of anarchists and racists, with a majority that is neither here nor there.


The problem with Israeli discourse is that too much weight is given to the more radicals voices heard within it. Just as IDF Chief-of-Staff Gadi Eisenkot made the mistake of choosing a rabbi that permits soldiers to rape non-Jewish women during times of war as the IDF's chief rabbi, so do extremely anti-Israeli journalists routinely invited to take part in discussion panels. Editors and producers believe this is good for ratings, and that it is a part of our freedom of expression. But they're wrong: it is a corruption of that freedom. For when those who represent a fraction of a percent are granted ten percent of all media coverage, it stomps on everyone else's freedom of expression.


During a meeting of the Zionist Union this week, Opposition Leader Isaac Herzog claimed that Israel is awash with "a dark Intifada of hate and racism, in a war that pits brother against brother." Where the hell is this coming from?


Without much respect for Jewish Price Tag acts of terror, such examples are small potatoes compared to the burning down of refugee centers in Sweden or the hooligans accosting foreigners across Europe. And yet no one is claiming Britain is in the middle of "an Intifada of hate", or that the Swedes have found themselves "in a war that pits brother against brother." What Herzog fails to understand is that you can sit in the Opposition without turning your country or society into a racist monster. Such irresponsible statements don't help battle the extremists on either side, but grant them more importance than they're worth.


Earlier this week, a program on Army Radio raised public criticism when it ran a program on Palestinian poet and noted objector to Israeli actions Mahmoud Darwish. There is truth to the claim that a US public broadcasting network would never include the work of an Afghan poet, regardless of their talent, if they are seen as fundamentally opposed to the US. And yet, when you look at the context, there really isn't much to get excited about. The program was included in a 12-part series, which also focused on Israeli author Moshe Shamir, poet Naomi Shemer and Revisionist leader Ze'ev Jabotinsky. Darwish, in any case, is not only the enemy. His is the most notable intellectual to come out of the Palestinians. It is worthwhile to get to knew his life and poetry.


The issue only became a problem once Deputy Attorney General Dina Zilber got involved, stating that the IDF chief-of-staff and Defense Minister Avigdor Lieberman (Yisrael Beytenu) have no right to intervene in the matter. Seriously?


Zilber, it should be noted, is of the opinion that ministers should answer to their underlings, and not vice versa. One example of this was her statement that relevant officials do not have the authority to prevent young Israelis from taking part in National Service in organizations known for their anti-Israel propaganda.


Years ago, then-education minister Yossi Sarid (Meretz) decided to include Darwish's poetry in the students' curriculum, while under Yuli Tamir (Labor) the ministry had included "the Palestinian Exodus" (also known as the Nakba) in its students' education. These decisions were seen as legitimate, not as interference. Lieberman, on the other hand, isn't even allowed to conduct an investigation.


Zilber has also stated that we don't need to hold elections. Instead, we should just let the clerks decide and have elected officials tow the line. This is why we have to reinstate our common sense and fix this serious strike against our government and judicial systems.


I have repeatedly heard it said that Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu "wants to see the Israel Broadcasting Authority bleed so that he could continue to control it." If you repeat something enough times, even ridiculous statements such as this begin to sound believable, which is why we should remind ourselves who exactly is working in the IBA: people such as Arye Golan, Oded Shahar, Oren Nehari, Keren Neubach, Eran Zinger and many more. If there's one thing you can't say about this group, it's that they serve the Prime Minister's Office, or that they are somehow identified with the political right. The only one there who has been known to sometimes express right-wing opinions is Yaakov Ahimeir, and it seems universally agreed upon that when it comes to public broadcasting, he is the champion of fairness.

So what "control" are they talking about? How exactly is the IBA "serving" the right, or the Prime Minister's Office? You can voice all the criticism in the world against Netanyahu's past actions in the Israeli media field or regarding his more recent attempt to stall the launch of the New Broadcasting Company, but there's no need to peddle far-fetched claims that have nothing to do with reality.


Earlier this week, news journalist and radio host Razi Barkai opened his show by reading that the daily newspaper Haaretz has called on Prof. Yuli Tamir to resign as president of Shenkar College due to her decision to remove an embarrassing, degrading, invasive and sexist nude portrait of Justice Minister Ayelet Shaked (Bayit Yehudi) from the graduating class' art exhibit. Barkai continued by saying that several weeks ago, the heads of Haaretz had pushed to prevent the publishing of a photo of a well-known figure that they found to be embarrassing, degrading, invasive and sexist. Suppose, said Barkai, that an art student would have presented as their final project a piece based on that photo. Would the enlightened newspaper still call for Tamir's resignation?


In the past, this column has taken jabs at Barkai over different issues. In this case, though, he is absolutely right in his criticism.


פרסום ראשון: 07.22.16, 21:08
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