Speaking at the Bnei David pre-army preparatory Yeshiva in Eli earlier this month, Levinstein asked his listeners "Who would agree to marry them?” and suggested that girls use enlistment as a mere mechanism to climb social ladders.
In the missive sent to Levinstein, Lieberman issued an ultimatum that should he fail to step down, he would use his authority in the Defense Ministry to cease his office’s recognition of the yeshiva as an IDF-affiliated institution.
Despite his demands, Lieberman’s office pointed out that while no specific timeframe for Levinstein’s resignation had been specified, the defense minister expected that it would come “within a reasonable period of time.”
“As someone who has respect and appreciation for rabbis, I was extremely disappointed by the blunt and insulting style of someone who is thought of as a respected and appreciated rabbi, and because of similar things that were said by you in the past a number of times about other groups who serve in the IDF,” Lieberman wrote. “You even repudiated what you said claiming that they were taken out of context.
“In my humble opinion, it is indicative of both a desire to provoke and agitate, and also a loss of common sense. I don’t know which one is worse between the two,” he continued.
Lieberman went on to say that on a personal note, Levinstein’s comments had offended him not merely as the defense minister who appreciates and values women serving in the military, along with others who have sacrificed their lives in Israel’s wars, “but also as a proud father whose religious daughter served in the IDF. It didn’t harm her and didn’t harm her religious belief, her judaism, nor her feminism.”
Levinstein’s comments were entirely at odds with the values of both the IDF and the state, Lieberman asserted. “Women have always served in the IDF, contributed to Israel’s battles and some of them have even paid with their lives.”
Indeed, Lieberman cited specific examples of fallen female soldiers who had died in service, who he said represented shining examples of the fighting spirit.
Among those mentioned in the letter was Hadar Cohen, 19, who was critically wounded in a combined stabbing and shooting attack at Jerusalem's Damascus gate in February 2016. He also mentioned Keren Tendler and Tamar Ariel.
“These are just three examples from 859 fallen female IDF soldiers who were killed since the founding of the state and from 990 women who were killed as fighters since the struggle for the Land of Israel began in 1860,” he reminded Levinstein.
Leiberman’s demands and rebuke however, were met with defiance by the yeshiva, which issued a response. “Out of a belief in our role as teachers and educators, we will not cooperate with any assault on the freedom of speech and the opinions of rabbis, students and graduates of Bnei David,” the statement read.
Education Minister Naftali Bennett also entered the fray saying that Lieberman’s warning was yet more political nonsense, “just like (when he) supported annexation of Judea and Samaria, opposed annexation of Judea and Samaria, (spoke about) revoking citizenship of Arab Israelis, taking out (Ismail) Haniyeh within 48 hours of becoming defense minister.”
Lieberman hit back on Twitter, stepping up the level of the invective as he accused Bennett of “protecting someone who is trying to turn Israel into Iran. But we won’t allow that, In Israel, women are equal to men and military service is for everyone,” he said.
Bennett countered on his Twitter page, accusing Lieberman of playing politics at the expense of IDF soldiers. "Lieberman, don't play politics on the backs of IDF fighters. The academy in Eli will not close down."
(Translated and edited by Alexander J. Apfel)