Far-right party would compel female TV hosts to cover hair, Yesh Atid MK claims

Religious Zionism’s Smotrich, who champions an Israel governed by religious law, slams Ben Barak’s ‘incitement’; MK Stern says party is threat to rights of women, LGBTQ community

MK Ram Ben-Barak at the Knesset in Jerusalem on June 20, 2022. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)
MK Ram Ben-Barak at the Knesset in Jerusalem on June 20, 2022. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

Yesh Atid MK Ram Ben Barak predicted Monday that the Religious Zionism party would require female TV hosts to cover their hair, in comments the far-right faction slammed as “incitement.”

In an interview on Radio Tzafon, Ben Barak said that the Religious Zionism party is “dangerous and anti-democratic.”

“Soon female TV presenters will be wearing head coverings and women won’t be able to serve in the army — that’s where we’re headed,” he said.

Religious Zionism party head Bezalel Smotrich called on Yesh Atid’s leader, Prime Minister Yair Lapid, to condemn Ben Barak’s remarks, which he labeled “incitement.”

“Ben Barak discredited the religious Zionist public and the women of the media and television who proudly wear headscarves,” Smotrich said, referring to the Orthodox, non-Haredi community.

Smotrich and Itamar Ben Gvir’s far-right Religious Zionism party is projected to become the third largest faction in the Knesset after the November 1 elections with around 13 seats, according to polls, which are often unreliable.

MK Itamar Ben Gvir and MK Bezalel Smotrich of Religious Zionism-Otzma Yehudit registered their party for the upcoming elections at the Knesset, September 14, 2022. (Arie Leib Abrams/Flash90)

Ben Barak defended his comments, tweeting that he “respects any way people choose to live their lives,” and that what he intended to say on the radio was that in a government headed by Smotrich and Ben Gvir, religion “will be enforced.”

Ben Barak said “the attempts to use this or any statement for election purposes is devious.”

Intelligence Minister Elazar Stern told Army Radio on Tuesday that he backed his Yesh Atid colleague, saying that the Religious Zionism party would harm the rights of both women and the LGBTQ community.

“I understand his statement — he gave it as an example of an excess of religious coercion,” Stern told Army Radio.

Knesset Member Elazar Stern. (Hadas Parush/Flash90)

“As someone who lives as a religious Zionist, I say that, to my great regret, the Religious Zionism party has a clear opinion against women serving in the IDF — why are we blind to this? And it is clear that they will harm the rights of the gay community,” said Stern, who was himself criticized for comments he made last year suggesting he had ignored sexual harassment complaints during his time as head of the IDF’s Manpower Directorate.

Over the years, Smotrich has spoken out on a number of occasions in favor of an Israel governed by religious law.

He has said that the Israeli justice system should adhere to religious Jewish law and asserted that the country should aspire to run itself as “in the days of King David.”

Religious Zionism leader Bezalel Smotrich arrives to casts his vote in the far-right party’s primaries, at a polling station in Jerusalem, August 23, 2022. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

Smotrich has also claimed in the past that mixed-gender units are damaging the army’s operational capabilities.

Women serve in a variety of roles in the IDF, in many cases alongside male counterparts. However, in a number of high-profile cases, women have been barred from participating in ceremonies due to objections by some participants on religious grounds, and have faced other forms of discrimination.

Smotrich also has a history of making anti-LGBTQ remarks and has boasted of being a “proud homophobe.”

He has said he has “a problem with LGBT culture,” compared gay marriage to incest, and apparently blamed a coronavirus wave on the Tel Aviv Pride parade.

Smotrich, who has served in the Knesset since 2015, rose to national prominence almost a decade earlier when he organized a “beasts parade” in protest of the Pride parade.

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