The recently founded New Right party, touted as a right-wing alliance of religious and secular Jews, came under criticism Thursday after one of its members was recorded calling for Israel to be ruled by Jewish religious law.
“As people whose lives are based upon commitment to the Torah, I think that is the essence of the battle to bring the Torah into every aspect of our lives,” MK Shuli Moalem-Refaeli said Wednesday evening at a conference on Jewish civil law.
“And the entire State of Israel, God willing, will go more and more toward that place of commitment to Torah and halacha,” or Jewish law, she added.
The recording was published by Army Radio, which didn’t say in what context the remarks were made.
Opposition lawmakers condemned the remarks and assailed the party, founded last month by Education Minister Naftali Bennett and Justice Minister Ayelet Shaked, who defected from the religious hawkish Jewish Home party.
“I wasn’t shocked to discover that the New Right is the oldest right possible — racist, inciting and undemocratic,” said Tamar Zandberg, who heads the left-wing Meretz party.
“It isn’t surprising that those who for years have tried to destroy democracy and reeducate children at schools would continue to do so also in their new guise,” she added.
MK Elazar Stern, a liberal religious member of the Yesh Atid party, similarly said he wasn’t surprised by Moalem-Refaeli’s statement, adding that it “wasn’t a slip of the tongue and wasn’t taken out of context.”
The party responded to the report by saying that “the New Right was established on the basis of true partnership between religious and secular people. Jewish tradition belongs to all, the entire Jewish nation. That vision is shared, of course, by MK Shuli Moalem.”
Bennett and Shaked announced at the end of December that they were departing the Jewish Home party to forge a “true partnership between secular and religious,” saying that the stalwart party of religious Zionism had lost its ability to influence Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, and that a new right-wing platform was needed to challenge the premier.
The Israel Hayom daily reported Thursday that Bennett has said in private meetings that the New Right aims to attract the votes of current supporters of the centrist Yesh Atid and Israel Resilience parties, headed by the secular Yair Lapid and Benny Gantz, respectively, rather than supporters of other right-wing parties.
“There is a paradigm shift here. In recent years there has never been an attempt to transfer votes from bloc to bloc, only within the blocs,” Bennett reportedly said, referring to the two major Israeli voting blocs, commonly referred to as the right — currently united in support of Netanyahu — and the center-left.
“We are doing the opposite,” he was quoted as saying. “Half of Gantz’s [projected] seats [in the Knesset] can move to us. We have already taken two seats from him and from Lapid, and our polls show that trend could strengthen later.”
Statements like Moalem-Refaeli’s are unlikely to attract voters who support the religious freedom advocated by Lapid’s party.
Candidates to join the party have included deaf rights activist Shirley Pinto, who would become the first-ever deaf Knesset candidate, and right-wing columnist Caroline Glick, who was announced as a New Right candidate last week.
Bennett said last week that the electoral slate being compiled “will increase the right-wing bloc,” and promised that with other high-profile candidates seeking to join, “further surprises are expected.”
Raoul Wootliff contributed to this report.