Prime Minister-designate Benjamin Netanyahu pledged that the right-religious coalition he is cobbling together won’t impose “Talmudic law” on Israel, while calling former US president Donald Trump’s meeting last week with rapper Kanye West and known antisemite Nick Fuentes “a mistake.”
In an interview released Wednesday, Netanyahu was asked about his likely new government’s inclusion of far-right figures, particularly Otzma Yehudit leader Itamar Ben Gvir, a disciple of the late extremist rabbi Meir Kahane who long hung a picture of the perpetrator of the 1994 Tomb of the Patriarchs massacre on his wall.
“The main policy or the overriding policy of the government is determined by the Likud and frankly, by me. I think I have more than a modest influence on it,” Netanyahu told Bari Weiss’s “Common Sense” podcast.
“Israel is not going to be governed by Talmudic law,” he added, in dismissive tones. “We’re not going to ban LGBT forums. As you know, my view on that is sharply different, to put it mildly. We’re going to remain a country of laws.”
Ben Gvir’s electoral partner, Religious Zionism leader Bezalel Smotrich, has previously said he wants Israel to be governed by Jewish law, while Avi Maoz MK, another far-right figure who Netanyahu is to put in charge of “Jewish identity” in the next government, has called to ban the Jerusalem gay pride parade.
“The new government does not believe in the Declaration of Independence or what [David] Ben Gurion commanded us: Maintain a liberal and democratic State of Israel. A Jewish state but not a halachic state,” outgoing Prime Minister Yair Lapid said Wednesday at a memorial event for the country’s first prime minister, hours before Netanyahu’s interview was published.
Lapid charged that the presumptive next government also does not believe in equality for the LGBT community and non-Jewish Israelis, nor in Zionism.
“Ben Gurion is the founder of the Zionist state. Two out of the four parties that compose [the new coalition] define themselves as non-Zionist. The third is a complete corruption of the Zionist idea,” Lapid said, referring to a pair of ultra-Orthodox factions and the far-right Religious Zionism.
“This is a government that was elected democratically but wants to destroy democracy. Democracy is not only the will of the majority Democracy is also defending the minority from the majority, separation of powers and the independence of courts, freedom of expression and telling the truth,” Lapid added.
“I didn’t come here to eulogize Ben Gurion but to apologize to him,” said Lapid. “What is happening in Israel today contradicts everything he believed in, and every instruction he left for us… Ben Gurion established the IDF. The new government is already inciting IDF soldiers against IDF commanders.”
‘That’s a red line: Defense is in our hands’
During his interview with Weiss, Netanyahu also said his government will not deal differently with Jews involved in terror, seemingly distancing himself from Smotrich.
“Nobody gets a break for terrorism. If you are a Jew and you commit a terrorist act, you’ll be punished and should be punished exactly like anyone else. Nobody cares. Terrorism is defined and criminality should be defined by the nature of the act, not by the nature of the perpetrator,” he said.
Netanyahu alluded to concerns about Smotrich’s demand to be appointed defense minister, a post that he insisted would remain with his Likud party.
“That’s a red line: defense is in our hands. Defense is not merely what you think it is. It’s not merely preventing incoming missiles. It’s also deciding on policies that could be quite inflammatory. I’m trying to avoid that,” he said.
The Likud chief outlined his chief policy priorities in the interview, during which Weiss did not ask about his ongoing corruption trial.
“The first thing is to prevent Iran from annihilating us,” he said. “The second is to expand the circle of peace beyond our imagination. Saudi Arabia would be a tremendous achievement, to have peace with them, because it would effectively end the Arab-Israeli conflict. Not the Palestinian-Israeli conflict.”
“Number three is to continue to make Israel a light unto the nations. It’s the quintessential innovation nation on earth… If you want, I’ll give you the other seven items on my list. But let’s end with the three,” he added.
Though he did not list it among his main goals, Netanyahu hinted at proposed judicial reforms championed by his partners that would drastically curb the power of the courts and potentially lead to the dismissal of his ongoing trial on corruption charges.
“There has to be a balance between the three branches of government. That balance has been in many ways impaired in Israel by the rise of unchecked judicial power. Correcting it is not destroying democracy, it’s protecting it,” he said.
Netanyahu railed at the previous government, claiming without evidence that the Islamist Ra’am party wants to destroy Israel and supports terror despite its repeated denunciations of terrorist violence.
“It was a disunity government. In fact, they barred the majority of the Jewish citizens of Israel from the government,” he claimed. “To achieve power, they gave power to a party that wants to see the end of the Jewish state as we know it, that supports terrorists openly.”
He was also asked in the interview about rising antisemitism in the US, including Trump’s meeting with West and Fuentes.
“Trump’s decision to dine with [them] I think is wrong and misplaced. I think it’s a mistake,” he said. “He shouldn’t do that.”
Trump has been widely condemned for hosting West and Fuentes at his Mar-a-Lago resort, including by many prominent Republicans and Jewish figures who have been supporters of the ex-president. His dinner with the two followed a number of recent antisemitic statements made by West, while Fuentes has a history of Holocaust denial and racism.
Though Trump later sought to distance himself from Fuentes, insisting he did not know he was dining with a white supremacist, he did not condemn either his or Kanye’s statements.
But Netanyahu stressed that Trump “has been a tremendous supporter of Israel, and I’m unabashedly appreciative of what he did for Israel.
“I think he made a mistake. I hope it’s not repeated,” he added.
Netanyahu and Trump broadcast a close working relationship while the latter was in office, though comments made by the former American leader over the past year — including saying “fuck him” in an interview — have indicated ties between them were rocky.