Religious Zionism says it agreed with Likud to advance Basic Law on Torah study

Far-right party announces that agreements have also been reached on judicial reform, amending Law of Return’s ‘grandchild clause’; Ben Gvir reportedly to get veto over some bills

Likud leader Benjamin Netanyahu, left, Religious Zionism party head Bezalel Smotrich and other party leaders in a group photo after the swearing-in of the 25th Knesset, November 15, 2022. (Olivier Fitoussi/Flash90)
Likud leader Benjamin Netanyahu, left, Religious Zionism party head Bezalel Smotrich and other party leaders in a group photo after the swearing-in of the 25th Knesset, November 15, 2022. (Olivier Fitoussi/Flash90)

The Religious Zionism party announced late Wednesday that it had reached agreements with prime minister-designate Benjamin Netanyahu’s Likud on policy planks for a final coalition deal, shortly before the latter declared that he had succeeded in putting together a government ahead of a midnight deadline.

Netanyahu also reportedly reached agreements on several issues with two other parties, including granting a veto over some legislation to far-right Otzma Yehudit chief Itamar Ben Gvir, who is slated to helm the new national security ministry in the next government.

Having informed President Isaac Herzog that he assembled a government, Netanyahu must finalize agreements with the other factions in his right-religious bloc and swear in the prospective ruling coalition by January 2.

According to a statement from Religious Zionism, the far-right party agreed with Likud to legislate a quasi-constitutional Basic Law declaring that “Torah study is a fundamental principle in the heritage of the Jewish people.”

Religious Zionism gave no further details on the proposed law, which some of Netanyahu’s ultra-Orthodox partners have backed as part of efforts to formally enshrine exemptions to mandatory military service for yeshiva students.

The Religious Zionism statement said it had also agreed with Likud to advance “significant and historic reform” of the legal system, an apparent reference to the party’s backing of contentious measures that would sharply reduce judicial oversight and grant politicians greater control over judicial appointments.

Illustrative: A High Court of Justice hearing at the Supreme Court in Jerusalem, October 20, 2022. (Olivier Fitoussi/Flash90)

The party said other points of agreement included amending the Law of Return due to “the difficulties and loopholes created by the grandchild clause.” Religious Zionism and other allied parties in Netanyahu’s bloc have advocated scrapping the clause, which allows for anyone with at least one Jewish grandparent to receive Israeli citizenship as long as they don’t practice another religion. Following criticism of the proposed amendment, Netanyahu said earlier this month that he “doubts” the law will be changed but did not explicitly rule it out.

Additionally, Religious Zionism said it reached agreements with Likud on appointing a national religious chief rabbi; legalizing illegal West Bank posts; crafting plans to “Judaize” the Galilee and Negev; and budgeting hundreds of millions of shekels for “strengthening Jewish identity,” among others.

There was no statement from Likud on the agreements with Religious Zionism.

Meanwhile, Hebrew media reports said Netanyahu agreed to appoint Ben Gvir as deputy chair of the Ministerial Committee for Legislation after they met Wednesday evening for coalition talks.

There was no confirmation of the reports, which said the Otzma Yehudit leader would be given a partial veto over proposed bills, without further elaborating.

Otzma Yehudit party chief Itamar Ben Gvir attends a Knesset special committee to discuss his proposed Police Ordinance changes, December 18, 2022. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

According to Channel 13 news, Netanyahu also agreed with the United Torah Judaism parties to raise budgets for ultra-Orthodox educational institutions so they receive identical funding as other schools.

The network said that unlike other schools, the Haredi schools will receive the funds without oversight and will not be required to teach core subjects such as English and math.

Along with Likud, Religious Zionism, Otzma Yehudit and UTJ, Netanyahu’s bloc also includes the one-seat far-right Noam faction and the ultra-Orthodox Shas, which the incoming premier has yet to reach final agreements with.

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