Israeli public figures shocked by Liberman’s ‘religious militia’ smear

“These are the death throes of your career,” Education Minister Rafi Peretz, head of the national religious Jewish Home party, told Liberman.

By Batya Jerenberg, World Israel News

Political figures and education leaders on Tuesday fiercely criticized Yisrael Beitenu head Avigdor Liberman for saying that some religious pre-army military academies are “turning into religious militias.”

Speaking at the IDC Herzliya Conference earlier in the day, Liberman first acknowledged that these academies “have prepared some of the best, most courageous fighters, and I hope they continue to operate.”

His suggested solution was to put them under the sole auspices of the Defense Ministry. The mechinot (pre-army academies) are currently funded by the Education Ministry within the national religious department.

Reactions to his statement were fast and furious.

“Someone who attacks the heroes of Israel just to get a few votes should be ashamed of himself,” remarked Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu as he listed a some well-known graduates of these academies who died in service of their country.

“There has never been an educational enterprise that contributed to the army and the state like the pre-military academies,” declared Education Minister Rabbi Rafi Peretz, who headed one such academy in Gush Katif, the Jewish communities in Gaza that existed before the 2005 Disengagement.

“As one who founded one of the flagships in Atzmona and raised thousands of youth to contribute and volunteer for the country, I say to Liberman: Release us, your time has come and gone. These are the death throes of your career. At a time when Israeli society needs unity and healing of rifts – you just stoke the fire and deepen the polarization,” Peretz said.

Liberman later took to Facebook in an attempt to clarify his remarks. Echoing Netanyahu, he said the mechina students are “the salt of the earth. But in order to preserve this tremendous enterprise … we must distance them from the rabbis who preach values that contradict the IDF’s heritage.”