After Yamina chief Bennett backs gay rights, party’s Smotrich vows opposition

MK says he believes ‘in a Jewish state, not just as a label but in practical content’; says he and the party leader try to focus on the ‘huge amount’ they have in common

Transportation Minister Bezalel Smotrich speaks at an awards ceremony honoring far-right rabbi Yitzhak Ginsburg in Givat Shmuel, on August 8, 2019. (Tomer Neuberg/Flash90)
Transportation Minister Bezalel Smotrich speaks at an awards ceremony honoring far-right rabbi Yitzhak Ginsburg in Givat Shmuel, on August 8, 2019. (Tomer Neuberg/Flash90)

Yamina MK Bezalel Smotrich vowed Monday to oppose granting gay couples the same rights as heterosexual ones, days after Yamina leader Naftali Bennett said he supported total equality in civil rights for the LGBT community.

Yamina is an alliance of two parties: Bennett’s New Right and Smotrich’s National Union. While New Right has sought to distance itself from a religious image, National Union is a standard-bearer of Israel’s national religious camp.

Bennett, during an Instagram interview last week, said he believed in “live and let live, and in respect for every person; and for LGBT people to fully have all the civil rights a straight person in Israel has.”

But questioned on the matter during a Channel 13 interview Monday, Smotrich made clear his faction of the party would not vote in favor of legislation enshrining such rights.

“There have been such votes, we opposed. If there will be [future votes] we will continue to oppose, because I believe in a Jewish state, not just as folklore and as a label but in practical content,” Smotrich said. “The status quo that has allowed us to live here together for 70 years also includes the fact that marriage and divorce in Israel is done according to Jewish religion.”

He added: “Yamina is comprised of two parties, that’s not new… We have differences on issues such as this but we also have a huge amount in common and we focus mainly on that.”

Yamina Party chairman Naftali Bennett at a press conference in Jerusalem on May 14, 2020. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

Yamina has soared in polls in recent months since moving from the coalition to the opposition in the wake of the March elections — taking the number 2 spot behind Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s Likud amid growing dissatisfaction with the government’s handling of the coronavirus pandemic and polling in the low twenties in projected Knesset seats (the party currently has just five).

Bennett has sought to portray himself as the level-headed, responsible adult in the room in the face of the coalition’s internal bickering. And he has done his best to establish Yamina as a party with nationalist, traditional roots but a forward-facing agenda.

But his ally Smotrich has often poked holes in those efforts, occasionally making controversial statements on Judaism’s place in a democratic Israeli society that could deter more moderate voters.

Last year he said on several occasions that Israel should be governed by religious law, that he wishes to “restore the Torah justice system” and that the country should aspire to run itself as “in the days of King David.”

Such comments were strongly repudiated by numerous politicians, including Netanyahu.

Transportation Minister Bezalel Smotrich arrives at a voting station in the West Bank settlement of Kedumim on March 2, 2020. (Sraya Diamant/Flash90)

Smotrich has a history of controversial statements. Among these, he’s previously called for segregated maternity wards for Jews and Arabs; said gays control the Israeli media and the public agenda; and boasted about being a “proud homophobe,” saying gay people are welcome to be “abnormal” in their own homes, but shouldn’t “make demands of the state.”

According to a pair of television polls on Sunday, Likud would receive 27 seats if elections were held today, down from 36 in the current Knesset. Yamina, meanwhile, was forecast to catapult from its current tally of five seats to 21-24.

Netanyahu on Monday brushed off surging support for Yamina in the polls.

“I’m not worried about the polls. I never succeed in the polls, only elections,” Netanyahu was quoted as saying in a statement from his Likud party.

The growing support for Yamina has come amid significant criticism of Netanyahu for his handling of the COVID-19 pandemic, with a majority of Israelis disapproving of his performance and believing decision-making is being primarily driven by political factors.

Bennett has long had a contentious relationship with Netanyahu but was a part of the prime minister’s right-wing religious bloc until Yamina was left out of the new government when it was formed in May.

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