Far-right Religious Zionism chair Bezalel Smotrich said Wednesday in a Wall Street Journal opinion piece that controversial reforms proposed by the incoming coalition only seek to make Israel more like the United States.
In a pitch seemingly aimed at the American public, the incoming finance minister said he has been vilified by US media, arguing portrayals of him as set on implementing Jewish religious law in Israel are mistaken.
“In reality, we seek to strengthen every citizen’s freedoms and the country’s democratic institutions, bringing Israel more closely in line with the liberal American model,” Smotrich wrote in the piece, titled “Israel’s New Government Isn’t What You’ve Heard.”
Incoming prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu signed coalition deals with Likud’s two ultra-Orthodox partners, Shas and United Torah Judaism, as well as with the far-right Religious Zionism, Otzma Yehudit and Noam parties on Wednesday.
The new government is set to be sworn in at a ceremony on Thursday. Together, the 64-strong coalition in the 120-member Knesset represents the most hardline right-wing government in the 75-year history of modern Israel.
In the op-ed, Smotrich justified planned judicial reforms that will limit the power of the judiciary as another attempt to imitate the US model.
“In the US, elected politicians appoint federal judges, including Supreme Court justices, making the bench at least indirectly responsive to the people. In Israel, sitting Supreme Court justices have veto power over new appointments to the court,” he said.
“Our emphasis on judicial reform is meant to bring Israel closer to the American political model with some limited checks to ensure the judicial system respects the law. We seek to appoint judges in Israel in a process similar to America’s.”
Smotrich also said that as finance minister he planned to advance a free-market agenda and to crack down on Israeli labor unions.
“This includes removing the government price controls and import restrictions that have limited competition and kept consumer prices high, as well as regulatory reforms and a loosening of bureaucratic control over small businesses,” he wrote.
On the issue of religion and state, the far-right lawmaker vowed that “the new government will never seek to impose anything on a citizen that goes against his or her beliefs.” Religious Zionism has proposed a law to allow businesses to refuse service to certain customers on the basis of their religious conscience.
“This is no different from the rights the US Supreme Court recently affirmed in its Masterpiece Cakeshop decision. Contrary to some American reporting, we seek to protect all citizens from coercion that would violate their conscience — nothing more,” Smotrich said, referencing a 2018 decision that allowed a Colorado baker to refuse to bake a wedding cake for a gay couple.
Smotrich also claimed in his piece that proposed reforms to the government’s West Bank policy wont involve “changing the political or legal status of the area.”
However, his party’s deal with Likud committed in principle to the annexation of the West Bank, subject to the prime minister’s considerations, and also to legalize settlement outposts currently considered illegal by the Israeli government.
Additionally, Smotrich expressed the goal of ending Palestinian Authority construction in Area C of the West Bank, contending there is “a European Union-funded project to facilitate the Palestinian takeover of Area C, the one part of Judea and Samaria where Jews are currently permitted to live under the Oslo Accords.”
However, according to the accords, Israeli presence in Area C was supposed to be temporary and gradually come under Palestinian Authority jurisdiction.
US President Joe Biden’s administration reportedly plans to hold Netanyahu personally responsible for the actions of far-right lawmakers in the new government.
It also plans to avoid dealing as much as possible with the next government’s most hardline elements, such as Smotrich, expected incoming national security minister Itamar Ben Gvir, and Avi Maoz, the anti-LGBT lawmaker tapped as a deputy minister in the Prime Minister’s Office.