The spiritual adviser for Bezalel Smotrich’s Religious Zionism party said Friday that he supported turning Israel into a state governed by religious law, while insisting that it would not infringe on individual rights.
“There is no problem with having a halachic state. No one is talking about [harming people’s] private lives. How will people’s rights be harmed? I don’t understand what the problem is. We are talking about a Jewish state,” Rabbi Chaim Druckman said in an interview with the Yisrael Hayom daily.
The position has been voiced by Smotrich himself in the past, while swiftly drawing pushback from Likud leader Benjamin Netanyahu, expected to become the next prime minister.
But Smotrich’s political stature expanded significantly after this month’s election when his Religious Zionism alliance of three far-right parties doubled in size and won 14 seats in the 25th Knesset. Now, he is aiming to be appointed defense minister, and if not that senior post, then reportedly finance minister — a demand that has led to a standstill in Netanyahu’s negotiations to form a government.
Smotrich is being pushed by Druckman and other prominent rabbis in the national religious camp to not back from his demand for the Defense Ministry portfolio, with the pro-settler spiritual leaders seeing the Religious Zionism chairman’s appointment as an opportunity to shift Israel’s policy in the West Bank further to the right and quash the possibility of establishing a Palestinian state for good.
Druckman refused to get into specifics regarding which portfolio he hoped Smotrich would receive, but did say he deserved a senior post.
“Maybe people previously took Religious Zionism for granted, but this time I assume it won’t happen,” Druckman told Yisrael Hayom.
Netanyahu has been bucking Smotrich’s demand for the defense post, with Likud sources leaking to the media that such an appointment would risk damaging ties with the US, which is invested in maintaining security calm in the West Bank and keeping prospects for a two-state solution alive.
Druckman does not subscribe to such views and said that he expects the new government to “allow Jews to settle wherever possible” and annex Israel’s West Bank settlements as well.
“This land is the Land of Israel, and in the Land of Israel Jews [should be allowed] to settle anywhere,” he said.
Pressed further on how he envisioned a halachic state in practice, Druckman said he supported legislation that would only recognize Orthodox conversions, as opposed to ones conducted by Conservative or Reform rabbis. Currently, there is official recognition of non-Orthodox conversions for the purposes of citizenship, a move with limited practical implications, but a deep symbolic slight against the Reform and Conservative movements.
Druckman acknowledged that many Diaspora Jewish leaders oppose such a proposal but suggested that they have less legitimacy to maintain such an opinion given the rising assimilation numbers of Jews abroad. Druckman said Diaspora Jews should understand that the majority of Jews in Israel want Orthodox-only conversions, though he did not provide figures to support that stance.
The senior national religious rabbi also said he supported getting rid of any public transportation on the Sabbath.
He said he is aware of the opposition to his views regarding a halachic state but he claimed the pushback stemmed from ignorance with regard to what Jewish halacha is.
“Maybe they think we’ll put a streimel on their head,” he said, referring to a traditional hat worn by some Haredi men. “Come on, that’s absurd.”
As for the anti-LGBT Noam faction, which is part of the Religious Zionism alliance, Druckman expressed sympathies with some of its views.
He clarified that he doesn’t always like the party’s style and how it purports to be the party that cares most about strengthening Israel’s Jewish identity, “but on the essence of things, I agree with them.”
Druckman said that those who consider Noam’s efforts to roll back LGBT rights as a form of coercion should realize that it is the opposing camp that is seeking to coerce the public. He used the example of new requirements on some governmental forms that have signees mark their “parent 1” and “parent 2,” as opposed to “mother” and “father,” given that not every child has parents who are the same gender.
“Father and mother is something that has existed for generations, so now we’re going to change because someone wants to innovate? The one who wants to innovate is the one who is coercing here,” he claimed.
Druckman, 90, also expressed his support for the likely incoming government’s plan to double handouts for Orthodox yeshiva students at the taxpayer’s expense. He argued that college tuition in Israel is often subsidized by the government and insisted that yeshiva tuition should not be viewed differently. Critics argue that the lack of secular studies in such religious institutions leaves Orthodox graduates without the tools necessary to enter the workforce, thereby further burdening the economy.
Druckman hailed the Hesder army track, which Smotrich completed, saying the combination of Torah study and military service was an ideal route for young men to take. “I see them as King David’s soldiers,” he said.
On speculation that the incoming government will pass legislation that will allow the Knesset to override decisions made by the Supreme Court, Druckman said he backed the proposal.
“The court has great value, but within certain limits. It is necessary to set limits, as we have seen that these limits have been crossed,” he said, without giving an example. “It is unacceptable that after a court ruling everyone is expected to stand still. The public is the one who decides in a democratic country.”
Druckman’s interview, particularly his support for a halachic state, sparked an outcry among lawmakers slated to serve in the opposition.
Labor chair Merav Michaeli tweeted that Druckman’s agenda “is Smotrich’s plan of action.”
“If you think it ends in a headline in a newspaper, you’re wrong. This is their vision for the State of Israel in another 20 years. Religious. Fundamentalist. Messianic,” she wrote.
“This is a wake-up call for liberals — secular and religious. It’s time to lay out our Jewish, Zionist and liberal vision without fear, and to fight for it with all our might,” Michaeli added.
Yisrael Beytenu chairman Avigdor Liberman went further, telling Channel 12 Friday that Smotrich and his supporters want to turn Israel into a “state of the ayatollahs.”