Professor Moshe Arens
Professor Moshe ArensIsrael news photo

Professor Moshe Arens, former Defense Minister and Ambassador to the US, told Arutz 7 Thursday that Defense Minister Ehud Barak “is endangering the country” by ousting the Har Bracha yeshiva from the Hesder Torah study-soldier program.

Arens, who immigrated to Israel from the United States, charged that Barak’s decision was a “big mistake” that may cost the army the price of losing Hesder students, who often serve in elite combat units.

He said that the government is wrong for involving the army in politics by using soldiers for police actions to expel Jews from their homes. Barak has argued that Rabbi Eliezer Melamed, head of Har Bracha, is mixing politics with the army by suggesting that soldiers not obey expulsion orders, which he and many rabbis consider a violation of Torah law.

Arens, who served three times as Defense Minister, argued that the government has not learned its lesson from the mass expulsions in the “Disengagement” program in 2005, when soldiers helped police expel nearly 10,000 Jews from their homes.

“In the Disengagement, the government deployed soldiers against civilians who had not violated any law. This is not the duty of the IDF, and today, most of the public agrees that the Disengagement was a mistake", Arens told Arutz 7.

He noted that IDF Chief of Staff Gabi Ashkenazi also has said that it would be preferable not to involve the army in civilian expulsions. “If the IDF were not involved in the issue, this problem [with Hesder yeshiva] would go away and what has happened would be seen as a tempest in a teacup.”

Media Bias

The dispute with Rabbi Melamed escalated after he refused to make a sweeping denouncement of protests against expulsion orders to soldiers. However, he explicitly stated that if soldiers had asked for his advice, he would have recommended that they not stage protests within the IDF.

Photo: Rabbi Melamed  Israeli media generally played down or ignored that statement until after Barak announced Sunday night he will remove Har Brachah from the Hesder program.

Rabbi Melamed said that Barak’s decision must be overturned because otherwise “the Defense Minister will decide to close another yeshiva because of something he does not like. We are not his soldiers. We are willing to listen, but expect respect from him.”

Support for Rabbi Melamed

Ramat Gan Rabbi Yaakov Ariel backed Rabbi Melamed, saying that “Barak did something that should not be done. Summoning him to a hearing is a humiliation, as if the rabbi is some sort of clerk. Is that the way Barak would act with an academic professor? The real question is whether a democratic country allows freedom of expression-- except for rabbis who say what they think.”

Hesder yeshiva rabbis have rallied around Rabbi Melamed. Kiryat Arba yeshiva head, Rabbi Eliezer Waldman, a former American, called Barak’s decision "very grave and in violation of 40-year-old agreements between the IDF and the Hesder yeshivas.”

Otniel Hesder yeshiva head, Rabbi Benny Kalmanzon told Arutz 7 that Barak has found a “new sacrificial lamb” to cover up charges of corruption that have followed the Defense Minister for several years.

Photo: Ehud Barak  "Barak has succeeded in destroying the Labor party and now wants a spin to free himself from another issue of corruption on someone else’s account," according to Rabbi Kalmanzon. "He was caught red-handed recently employing an illegal foreign worker in his home, and now he has found a convenient target by picking on Rabbi Melamed to save himself from charges of corruption.

“I am against refusing orders, and I think that the army must be kept out of the political arena, but I call on Hesder yeshiva rabbis to stand as one with the yeshiva,” Rabbi Kalmezon said. He also noted that professors in universities, where he lectures, often preach anti-Israel messages to their students with impunity. “This is an absurd situation when lecturers call for boycotting Israel while receiving salaries from the government,” he explained.

Regarding the proposed removal of Har Bracha from the Hesder program, he said, “I do not understand the logic of causing students not to serve in the army and then complaining that they do not serve.”

Bnei Akiva yeshiva Rabbi Avraham Zuckerman also supported Rabbi Melamed”s refusal to answer Barak’s summons for a “hearing.” The use of the word is means that “Barak decided that Rabbi Melamed sinned. A hearing is for someone who is accused of being guilty," explained Rabbi Zuckerman.