ARZENU, representing the views and aspirations of 1.8 million Reform and Progressive Zionists around the world, feels compelled to speak out against the nomination of Rabbi Eyal Karim as Chief Rabbi of the IDF. It is our strong view that Rabbi Col. Karim’s extremist statements and positions do not conform to the spirit of klal yisrael (Jewish unity), nor do they honour Israel’s soldiers, nor the values of inclusiveness and integration that are the symbols of the IDF.
Specifically, his actions have included:
• He has opposed the role of women in the IDF, writing that their military service “was explicitly forbidden.” This contradicts the Equality Amendment to the Military Service Law that states “The right of women to serve in any role in the IDF is equal to the right of men.”
• In 2011 he argued that female singers should not perform at any IDF ceremony due to the controversial custom of kol isha that would prohibit men from hearing the singing voice of a woman. Enforcing such a derogatory custom, with little basis in Jewish law, undermines the pluralism of the IDF.
• He has written that gays and lesbians are “sick and deformed.” At a time when the culture of LGBTI liberation is still battling for recognition in Israel and around the world we expect the rabbinic leadership of the Army, in its words and deeds, to support and dignify all its soldiers and not demonise minority groups.
• Regarding religious objections to military orders, he has written: “An order that is at odds with the halakhah [Jewish law] must not be followed... An order to commit a sin or prevent the fulfilment of a commandment should absolutely not be followed.” While the right to disobey an immoral order is a hallmark of a civilized army, we fear that generic statements like these will signal to the most extreme fringes that they can take the law into their own hands.
• He has written, “Terrorists should not be treated as human beings, because they are animals.” While understanding the need for exceptional actions to be taken in extreme circumstances, such statements demonstrate a total rejection of the values of the IDF to uphold the due process of justice as a hallmark of a democratic society and a civilised defence force.
• Perhaps most controversially, he has written that Jewish law could condone the rape of non-Jewish women in wartime. While Rabbi Col. Karim subsequently disavowed this position, placing it in a theoretical context, these ill-conceived musings tarnish the moral character of the IDF.
We, and our friends and colleagues around the world, are deeply disturbed that this nomination appears to be part of a larger pattern of extremist religious coercion in Israel. At a time when Haredi cabinet ministers slander liberal streams of Judaism, when radicals defile other Jews’ right to worship, and when extremist rabbis call into question the democratic institutions of the State, we call upon the IDF to continue to represent the Jewish people in all its diversity. All Israel’s leaders—in civic, military, and religious life—must promote an Israel that represents the interests and wellbeing of all Jews.
Subsequently, ARZENU calls upon Defence Minister Avigdor Lieberman to reject this nomination and to ensure that the person appointed to this position is a person able to represent and support the values and aspirations of all Jews.