The leader of the far-right National Union party, MK Bezalel Smotrich, on Sunday said he would combat the “indoctrination” of liberal democracy in Israeli schools if appointed the next education minister.
Smotrich, whose National Union recently merged with the Union of Right Wing Parties, also said that as education minister, he would not invest in educationally impoverished areas, since “there will always be gaps” and “I’m not a communist.”
“For many years, there has been religious coercion in the school system; there is religious indoctrination that cannot be accepted. The committee overseeing the study of civics coerces us to learn the religion of liberal democracy,” Smotrich told a conference on Sunday.
He was riffing on a recent movement by secular parents who are fighting alleged Jewish Orthodox religious indoctrination in Israeli schools.
“If I become education minister, I will cancel the religious indoctrination in schools. We will be much more pluralistic and a lot more open to different approaches,” he continued. “At the same time, we will see to it that every boy and girl in the education system is familiar with the identity and heritage of the Jewish people.”
Smotrich also signaled that he would not seek to bridge educational gaps.
“If I become education minister, I will invest in areas that educate for excellence,” he said. “I’m not a communist, there will always be gaps.”
The current education minister, Naftali Bennett, has been gunning for the position of defense minister after April’s elections. Meanwhile, according to media reports, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has promised Smotrich’s Union of Right Wing Parties two senior cabinet positions in exchange for taking the Kahanist Otzma Yehudit (Jewish Power) party under its wing, with Smotrich reportedly set for the Education Ministry.
Smotrich, who once cast himself as a “proud homophobe,” also insisted on Sunday that “I am not a homophobe and am not afraid of any community.”
In 2006, Smotrich was involved in organizing an anti-gay “Beast Parade” in Jerusalem, in response to the city’s annual Gay Pride parade. Anti-gay activists marched throughout the city with goats and donkeys to spotlight what they called “deviant acts” of same-sex relationships. Smotrich has since distanced himself from anti-gay activism and told Haaretz that he regretted organizing the parade when he was “young and stupid.”
In 2016, Smotrich took to Twitter to support the separation of Arab and Jewish mothers in maternity wards in Israeli hospitals.
Smotrich, a co-founder of of the right-wing NGO Regavim, which targets illegal construction by non-Jews in Israel and the West Bank, entered the Knesset in 2015 and quickly became known for his uncompromising right-wing views and controversial remarks.
During his four years in the Knesset, he has made headlines for encouraging draft-dodging in protest of the IDF’s “radical feminist” agenda, for comparing the evacuation of an illegal settlement outpost to a “brutal rape,” and for claiming that “illiterate” Arabs are only granted university admission thanks to affirmative action.