Having already established his anti-chareidi “credentials,” Yisrael Beytenu head Avigdor Liberman moved onto his next target – the Religious Zionist public. In an interview at a security conference in Herzliya Tuesday, Liberman said that institutions associated with the movement, especially the pre-military academies that many youths attend before their IDF service, were “hotbeds of radicalism and fanaticism.”
“What is happening in Religious Zionism is a Greek tragedy,” Liberman said. “There is nothing in common between the historic National Religious Party and today’s Jewish Home, between Betzalel Smotrich and Zevulun Hammer,” a reference to the former head of the NRP and long-time Education Minister. “A small, chareidi-leaning and fanatic group has taken over the sector’s political institutions. I hope this will end soon, and we will see the historic Religious Zionist movement return.”
While the pre-military academies fulfilled an important role, Liberman said, “I have sharp criticism of them. They are turning the kids today into members of a religious militia. The soldiers turn their heads so they don’t have to look at girls, they have commanders who throw soldiers into the brig for putting a hot dog and cheese into the same refrigerator. We cannot continue to allow the rabbis to educate them in this way.”
In the next government, the Education Ministry will no longer fund the academies, unless they divest themselves of rabbinical leadership. “This duality, in which the academies are subject to the rules of the Education Ministry and the Defense Ministry, and to the rabbis, cannot continue. We need legislation that will take authority for the academies away from the Education Ministry, which has become a little ‘Chareidi Zionist’ empire in and of itself, and transfer them to the Defense Minister.”
Education Minister Rafi Peretz – who is also the former IDF Chief Rabbi – responded to Liberman by saying that “there has not been one institution in this country that has contributed to the IDF like the pre-military academies. The academies have produced thousands of soldiers and leaders. To Liberman I say, leave us alone. Your time has passed, these moanings of yours are the sounds of the death throes of your political career.”
Peretz’s fellow minister from the United Right List, Transportation Minister Betzalel Smotrich, wrote in a social media post “good for you Avigdor, you got your portion of attention for the morning. We can now continue with our day.”
Numerous other MKs slammed Liberman for the comments, among them Moshe Yaalon, former IDF Chief of Staff and MK for Blue and White. “Israel needs leadership that will unify the nation, not one that is based on the sounds of hatred against Arabs, chareidim, or Religious Zionists,” Yaalon said.