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Israeli army chief defends decision to hire controversial rabbi

Israeli army chief rabbi-elect has defended rape of non-Jewish women, called gay people 'sick and disabled'
Israeli soldier in tank near Israeli border with northern Gaza Strip (AFP)

The head of the Israeli army on Wednesday defended the decision to appoint a controversial chief rabbi despite a public outcry over his apparent endorsement of rape during wartime.

Israeli army chief Gadi Eisenkot said in a statement that he stood by his decision to make Colonel Eyak Karim the army's next chief rabbi, even if his comments as a civilian did not represent the army's values, Haaretz reported.

The statement added that Karim, in a discussion with Eisenkot, had promised to respect all people under his leadership and that he "sees the army as the people's army that accepts all recruits, whoever they might be."

In 2002, before he joined the army, Karim responded to a question asking whether Jewish scripture permitted soldiers to rape non-Jewish civilians during war by saying that while “intercourse with a female gentile [non-Jew] is very grave, it was permitted during wartime out of consideration for the soldiers' difficulties."

"And since our concern is the success of the collective in war, the Torah permitted [soldiers] to satisfy the evil urge under the conditions it stipulated for the sake of the collective's success,” he wrote in his reply.

The remarks were republished on Monday by various Israeli news outlets, just hours after the army announced Karim's appointment.

Karim, who reportedly clarified his comments in 2012 after they attracted criticism, saying that his words had been taken out of context, apologised again, according to Ynet news.

However, his appointment has been condemned by top female Israeli politicians, and will still need the approval of Defence Minister Avigdor Lieberman. 

Senior Israeli parliamentarians condemned the army's decision to recruit Karim, saying he was "unfit to be the top rabbinical authority of the IDF [Israeli army]".

Zehava Galon, head of the left-wing Meretz party, said: "His horrible racist and violent statements make women a target".

Prominent opposition Labor Party MP Shelly Yachimovich on Wednesday called on the army to scrap the appointment.

She said Karim's "odd and chilling" remarks "did not conform with the values of the country and the army".

But army officials have rebuffed the criticism.

“[Karim] has never written, said or even thought that an Israeli soldier is permitted to sexually assault a woman in war," the army said in the statement.

Karim, 59, is a former rabbi at the Ateret Cohanim yeshiva, or Jewish seminary, in Jerusalem's Old City.

He served in the army and was commander of an elite paratrooper brigade. Karim is to succeed Chief Military Rabbi Rafi Peretz, who is completing a six-year term.

Israel is the only country in the world where military conscription is obligatory for both men and women. 

The army prides itself on its diversity and regularly promotes large numbers of female soldiers. 

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