JERUSALEM, Nov. 22 (JTA) — The Israeli army’s chief of staff has fired an officer for telling an audience of soldiers that Judaism’s Conservative and Reform streams have been more harmful to the Jews than the Nazis.
Lt. Gen. Shaul Mofaz ordered the firing upon the recommendation of the army’s chief education officer, Brig. Gen. Elazar Stern.
“We simply don’t want someone who says such things to serve in our ranks,” Stern said Monday, referring to the comments that had been made by Lt. Gamliel Peretz.
Peretz came under fire after he was quoted as telling a group of soldiers he did not consider people affiliated with the Reform and Conservative movements Jewish, and that the two movements “led to the assimilation of 8 million Jews, which is worse than the Holocaust.”
Peretz made the remarks last week during a lecture on the status of women in Judaism before a group of about 60 soldiers.
When two soldiers affiliated with the Conservative movement objected to the officer’s statements, Peretz reportedly said he could express his opinions, especially if they are rooted in fact.
When his comments were first reported, they elicited sharp criticism from Conservative and Reform leaders, as well as from Israeli politicians, including Education Minister Yossi Sarid.
After Peretz was fired, Rabbi Andrew Sacks, director of the Conservative Movement’s Rabbinical Assembly of Israel, pointed out that leaders of the Masorti movement, as the Conservative stream is known in Israel, had originally called for Peretz to be relieved of his command, not that he be dismissed.
Just the same, Sacks praised the army’s “courageous decision.”
A legislator from the fervently Orthodox United Torah Judaism bloc had a different view of what happened.
“Suddenly, when an army officer says the truth,” that Conservative and Reform Jews “are responsible for assimilation, he gets thrown out of the army,” Meir Porush told Army Radio.