Israel Will Not Be Governed by Jewish Law, Netanyahu Tweets After Political Ally's Remarks

Far-right leader Bezalel Smotrich, who is vying for the justice portfolio and known for his radical views, said Israel should 'go back to operating as it did in King David's days'

Noa Landau
Noa Landau
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Netanyahu attends the weekly cabinet meeting in Jerusalem, June 2, 2019.
Netanyahu attends the weekly cabinet meeting in Jerusalem, June 2, 2019.Credit: Ronen Zvulun/Pool via AP
Noa Landau
Noa Landau

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said Monday Israel will not be governed by Jewish law, brushing off controversial comments made earlier by a far-right leader that caused an uproar.

Knesset member Bezalel Smotrich, whose Union of the Right-wing Parties is allied with Netanyahu's Likud, said that Israel should operate according to biblical laws. "The State of Israel, the country of the Jewish people, God willing, will go back to operating as it did in the days of King David and King Solomon," the far right lawmaker said in an interview to Kan Bet radio.

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"I want the State of Israel to operate according to the Torah in the long run. That's how it should be, it's a Jewish state," he added.

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Following a backlash by other political leaders and on social media, Netanyahu tweeted: "The State of Israel will not be a halakhic state."

Reacting on Facebook to Smotrich's remarks, Yisrael Beiteinu leader Avigdor Lieberman, whom the prime minister blames for his failure to form a governing coalition following the April 9 Knesset election due to Lieberman's refusal to compromise with ultra-Orthodox parties on a legislation on the drafting of yeshiva students, wrote: "This is exactly what Yisrael Beiteinu is trying to prevent – turning Israel from a Jewish state to a state of halakha. Modern Israeli law includes both a component of Jewish law and of universal values."

Bezalel Smotrich speaks at the Israel Bar Association in Tel Aviv, on Monday May 27, 2019.Credit: Liav Peled

Lieberman's party colleague in the Knesset Oded Forer said: "[Smotrich's comments] made it clear to everyone what kind of government Netanyahu wanted to form here and the extent to which he surrendered in negotiations to all of the demands of the ultra-Orthodox" and of Orthodox tending toward ultra-Orthodoxy.

For her part, the leader of the left-wing Meretz party, Tamar Zandberg, tweeted that what she called "Smotrich's crazy vision" has been revealed in full. "There is no need to detail what will happen to women and LGBT individuals in [Smotrich's] biblical legal world." All that needs to be noted, she wrote, is that the Basic Law on the Knesset disqualifies candidates from running for parliament who deny Israel's existence as a Jewish and democratic state.

Knesset member Shelly Yacimovich (Labor Party) tweeted in part that the consequences of Smotrich's suggestion would include a ban on homosexual intercourse and in addition "that a man can drive out his wife if she doesn't do household chores, all property belongs to the husband, a return of slavery, stoning."

Responding to criticism on the left, in a reference to the creation of a Palestinian state in the West Bank, Smotrich said: "The people who have been working for years to establish an Islamic state that would operate based on Sharia law 10 minutes from Tel Aviv are frightened by the aspiration for Jewish law in the state of the Jews. When all is said and done, it's logical."

Smotrich, who is known for his extreme right-wing opinions and is a declared homophobe, had announced during recent coalition negotiation talks that he would like to receive the justice portfolio.

On Sunday, after Netanyahu fired Justice Minister Ayelet Shaked, he called on the premier to immediately appoint him even before Israel holds a new election on September 17.

Smotrich suggested that biblical law should be imposed "according to today's spirit, today's economy, and how society lives in 2019."

The chair of the right-wing union, which was formed before the April 9 election and includes members who are followers of the late racist rabbi Meir Kahane, also spoke about diminishing the importance of the courts in Israel. "Hebrew law is respected and it should be even more respected in Israel's legal methods."

Smotrich went after the former chief of the High Court, ex-Justice Aharon Barak, saying that "the rules of the Torah are much more preferable to the halakah state that Aharon Barak created here. Why is a halakah [Jewish law] state where rules are determined by Aharon Barak and a small group of judges okay?"

Smotrich also addressed the dismissal of Shaked and former Education Minister Naftali Bennett. "I had nothing to do with it," he said. The lawmaker noted that his party would have asked for Netanyahu to make this move in the previous election if it really was going after the two former ministers.

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