The Israeli justice system should adhere to religious Jewish law, MK Bezalel Smotrich of the Union of Right-Wing Parties (URWP) has insisted, doubling down on his position despite drawing rebuke, and asserting that the country should aspire to run itself as “in the days of King David.”
“We want the justice portfolio because we want to restore the Torah justice system,” Smotrich said Sunday evening at Mercaz Harav Yeshiva in Jerusalem, hours after Justice Minister Ayelet Shaked was fired by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.
Smotrich is now demanding that he be her replacement as interim justice minister until the September 17 elections. In the past few months, before coalition talks failed, he had been insisting that Netanyahu hand him the justice portfolio, although the premier favors Likud lawmaker Yariv Levin for the job.
Smotrich doubled down on his position on Monday morning, telling Kan public radio that “the Jewish people is a special people that needs to live according to the Torah.”
He said his intention was a gradual, long-term one. “Nothing happens instantly and it doesn’t happen with coercion,” he said.
“When we talk about Torah laws there are many things. I think the Torah’s monetary laws are much better [than ours]. We need to grant the rabbinical courts a higher status.”
Asked whether he was calling for a “halacha state,” Smotrich retorted: “You throw a scary expression into the air. Torah laws are far superior to the ‘halacha state’ founded here by Aharon Barak.” He was referring to the controversial former Supreme Court chief who is most closely identified with Israeli justice system’s “activist” streak, long a target of right-wing ire.
“Why is a ‘halacha state’ in which Aharon Barak sets the rules okay?” Smotrich said. “Of course in the long run I want the State of Israel to conduct itself according to Torah laws. That will happen when the nation wants it, and I am confident that it will want it when it sees how Torah law is just and humane.”
He said Israel should “go back to conducting itself the way it did in the days of King David, while adjusting that for life in 2019.”
Opposition politicians lambasted Smotrich over the remarks.
Yair Lapid, co-leader of the centrist Blue and White party, responded to Smotrich on Twitter. “No, no, we won’t let this pass. There won’t be a state here ruled by halacha,” he said Monday, using the Hebrew term for Jewish religious law.
“His horrifying statements are a warning sign for the wave of conservatism by parts of the right,” said Labor MK Shelly Yachimovich in a statement, alleging that Smotrich intended to reinstate slavery, execution by stoning, and religious Jewish laws enabling men to divorce their wives for being immodest, banning gay sex and only letting men own property.
“The fact that Smotrich and his friends aren’t just visionaries from the margins but are in highly influential positions is a huge danger to human liberty and the age of enlightenment,” she added.
Meretz party leader Tamar Zandberg said the “mask has been removed” from Smotrich’s “insane vision,” which she likened to “a theocracy in the vein of [TV series] The Handmaid’s Tale.”
Zandberg called for Smotrich to be disqualified from running in the elections, in accordance with a law stipulating that only candidates who don’t reject Israel as both a Jewish and democratic state can run.
On Sunday, Netanyahu fired Shaked, along with her fellow New Right party member Education Minister Naftali Bennett — both, until this past campaign season, colleagues of Smotrich in the Jewish Home party — in a reshuffle of his interim government as he geared up for the September elections. New Right failed to get any Knesset seats in the April 9 vote, coming some 1,500 votes short.
Officials told Hebrew-language media that the pair were ousted because they could not hold such “sensitive” positions for six months after they failed to be reelected by the public. However, the move was widely seen as designed to prevent the once-popular right-wing ministers from using their positions to bolster their campaigns for the fall vote.