Israel Pulse

Israeli activists call out military academy for messianic teachings

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Article Summary
Human rights activist and attorney Yair Nehorai is petitioning the Supreme Court to halt the state funding of the Bnei David Military Preparatory Academy, which he claims advances a messianic worldview and is working to undermine democracy.

Attorney Yair Nehorai is legal counsel for the group Rabbis for Human Rights. Together with the Israeli Alliance headed by Shai Cohen, he has raised about 60,000 shekels ($16,000) in a crowdfunding campaign to petition the Supreme Court to stop the state from funding the Bnei David Military Preparatory Academy in the settlement of Eli in the West Bank. They still have about a month and a half left to reach their goal of 200,000 shekels ($54,000). Their plan is to appear before the Supreme Court with thousands of testimonies, video clips and documents proving that the school poses a threat to Israeli democracy and that it plans to take over the Israel Defense Forces “as a springboard to the heart of Israeli society, in a process that would lead to a religious revolution and the establishment of a Jewish theocracy in all the Land of Israel. This is their messianic vision.”

The military preparatory academy in Eli was founded in 1988 by two rabbis, Eli Sadan and Yigal Levenstein. Two years ago, Sadan was awarded the Israel Prize for Lifetime Achievement by Education Minister Naftali Bennett, the chair of HaBayit HaYehudi.

The school is considered the most prestigious of the religious military preparatory academies, with graduates holding senior command positions in the IDF and the Israeli security establishment. Among its most prominent alumni is Brig. Gen. Ofer Winter, a decorated officer who was recently appointed military secretary to Defense Minister Avigdor Liberman. A former commander of the Givati Brigade, Winter caused a scandal during Operation Protective Edge when he distributed a “commander’s statement” to his troops, describing the operation in Gaza as a religious operation and the fulfillment of God’s will. He prayed for his soldiers, “God, Lord of Israel, make our mission successful, as we are about to battle for your people, against an enemy which curses your name."

Other senior IDF officers from the Eli academy include Col. Avi Balot, who was recently appointed military secretary to Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, and Col. Ilan Dickstein, chief of the 91st (Northern) Division.

In the 30 years since it was founded, 24 alumni have fallen in battle, including Lt. Col. Emmanuel Moreno of the elite Matkal Commando Unit. Today, some 12 years after his death in the Second Lebanon War, his photo still cannot be published because of the secret operations he was involved in. Hadar Goldin, who was killed during Operation Protective Edge and whose body is still being held by Hamas, was also a graduate of the academy.

Now, Nehorai and the Israeli Alliance are engaged in battle against the academy. They want to prove to the Supreme Court and the Israeli public at large that the school, which receives some 10 million shekels ($2.7 million) per year from the Ministry of Education and additional funding from the Ministry of Defense, teaches messianism while trampling on the core principles of Israeli democracy.

In an interview with Al-Monitor, Nehorai explained, “The Eli military preparatory academy follows the teachings of Rabbi Z.Y. Kook that the creation of the State of Israel was an integral part of the process of redemption under the Messiah son of Joseph, who is charged with laying the foundation for the Messiah son of David. The academy is called Bnei David (“Sons of David”) in the belief that the Messiah son of David will soon arrive to institute the rule of God on Earth.’’

He claims that academy's administration “wants to reach the heart of Israeli society by seizing senior positions in the army. At the same time, they see the IDF as an ideological greenhouse, ideally suited to changing the minds of secular youth. The academy’s leadership and alumni have already taken over the Military Rabbinate and the IDF’s Jewish Awareness Division, which runs workshops and lectures for combat units. The division has caused political scandals in the past for distributing lesson plans to combat units on matters of religion and morality, or in other words, messianic religion and religious ethics as they see them.”

Nehorai makes a point of following all the school's publications and classes, which can be accessed easily on its website. He shares them with the media and on his own Facebook page “Shutting Down the Eli Military Academy.” The quotes posted there have already caused a commotion throughout the country. Examples include rabbi Yosef Kalner telling his students, “All secular Jews are traitors and the state can do anything to sanction them, including putting a bullet through their heads.” He has not been prosecuted for general incitement, nor for incitement to commit murder. Levenstein was quoted as saying that there is no place more harmful to women than the IDF and calling the LGBTQ community “perverts’’ who are ripping the country apart. Rabbi Eitan Cooperman stated, “The IDF is the tool through which God’s might acts in the world.”

According to Nehorai, the generous government funding that Bennett provides to the academy ensures its prestigious stature within the religious Zionist community and allows it to act against the core principles of Israel democracy. “Eli is at the forefront of a cancer spreading throughout the entire country,” he said. “Do you see these people? They are in hesder yeshivas [a program combining Talmudic studies with military service], in religious IDF Nahal units and in government positions, and no one really knows what their positions are. They talk about love of Israel, but they want to eliminate democracy.”

He believes that the petition to the Supreme Court that he and the members of the Israeli Alliance plan to submit will help expose and publicize the grand plan of the academy’s founders, which is the inculcation of a messianic ideology throughout Israel by seizing positions of power in the army and government. So far, the school staff has responded that their comments were taken out of context and that Nehorai is inciting the public against them personally and against an educational institution that they consider proud and patriotic.

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Found in: naftali bennett, religious zionist, idf, religious education, israeli defense ministry, israeli democracy, zionism

Shlomi Eldar is a columnist for Al-Monitor’s Israel Pulse. For the past two decades, he has covered the Palestinian Authority and especially the Gaza Strip for Israel’s Channels 1 and 10, reporting on the emergence of Hamas. In 2007, he was awarded the Sokolov Prize, Israel’s most important media award, for this work.

Eldar has published two books: "Eyeless in Gaza" (2005), which anticipated the Hamas victory in the subsequent Palestinian elections, and "Getting to Know Hamas" (2012), which won the Yitzhak Sadeh Prize for Military Literature. He was awarded the Ophir Prize (Israeli Oscar) twice for his documentary films: "Precious Life" (2010) and "Foreign Land" (2018). "Precious Life" was also shortlisted for an Oscar and was broadcast on HBO. He has a master's degree in Middle East studies from the Hebrew University. On Twitter: @shlomieldar

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