The Middle East is awash with fighters who believe that they are fulfilling God’s mission on earth. Daesh is the latest in a long list of militant groups that claim to fight for God. Others like the Lebanese militia, Hezbollah, which literally means the “Party of God”, have been around since 1985.
Israel rarely gets mentioned in conversations about fighters inspired by their religious convictions, even though the country has a large contingent of soldiers from the ultra-orthodox Jewish communities. However, their influence is such, according to the country’s former Defence Minister Avigdor Lieberman, that Israel’s military has now become the “army of God”. The hard-line leader of the secular nationalist Yisrael Beiteinu (Israel Our Home) party, who is seeking to end exemptions for the ultra-Orthodox from performing mandatory military service, made the astonishing claim on his Facebook page yesterday.
Lieberman, who made the comment in reaction to a booklet authored by senior rabbinical figures, which contained instructions for religious Jewish soldiers on how to avoid interactions with women forbidden by Jewish law, said that the Israeli army was becoming “Hashem’s army” (God’s army). He also criticised the interference of Rabbi saying: “This … booklet for religious soldiers on the halachic laws of modesty, written by military rabbis … with the support of senior rabbinical figures, is yet another proof of the growing radicalisation of religious Zionism that is being led by the ultra-Orthodox wing.”
Russian born Lieberman, who also served a short stint as foreign minister, explained that the radicalisation of the Israeli army was a reflection of wider society. “This attempt to turn the IDF into the ‘army of Hashem,’ with conduct resembling that of a haredi [ultra-Orthodox] kollel, is part of the same messianic worldview that has penetrated Israeli society and which seeks to damage the fabric of life and the status quo on religion and state issues,” he said.
Lieberman concluded the post with a call for the booklet to be banned and rabbis that endorsed it to be barred from the Israeli army. “The distribution of this booklet to IDF soldiers must be forbidden,” wrote Lieberman, and “the rabbis who sign it prevented from serving in reserves or lecturing to soldiers.”
The remarks were made as former military chief Benny Gantz received an official mandate yesterday to try to form Israel’s next government. With Yisrael Beiteinu wining eight seats in the Israeli Knesset, and Gantz’s outright refusal to work with Arab-dominated Joint List despite them coming third in September’s election, Lieberman will have huge sway in the formation of any new coalition.