Senior United Right MK and Transportation Minister Bezalel Smotrich
has said once again that he would like Israel to be run in accordance with Jewish religious law, comments which generated renewed attacks on him and the prime minister from opposition parties.
Speaking at a rabbinical conference on Monday, Smotrich was talking about the importance of preserving the Jewish character of the state, specifically Shabbat.
“We all would want the State of Israel to be run according to the Torah and Jewish law, it’s just that we can’t because there are people who think differently from us and we have to get along with them,” he said.
The minister was referencing, in particular, the issue of construction and maintenance work on national infrastructure projects on Shabbat, which the haredi (ultra-Orthodox) political parties have strongly objected to, as have the hard-line elements in the religious-Zionist community that Smotrich represents.
“We close roads for competitions, we close them for demonstrations, we can close them to build a bridge on a weekday, too,” he opined.
Yisrael Beytenu leader Avigdor Liberman jumped on Smotrich’s comments and vowed to defeat his newly formed United Right Party to exclude “those trying to force on us” a state governed by religious law.
“It is unbelievable how, once again without even blinking, we are hearing Minister Smotrich declare that if it depended on him, they would abolish the laws of the State of Israel and force upon us a state of Jewish law that operates only in accordance with Torah law,” said Liberman.
The Democratic Union also denounced Smotrich for his remarks, saying that “these are the people to whom the suspect from Balfour [Street] has given the keys to run the state, all in order so that they save him from the law,” in reference to Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.
Smotrich responded Tuesday morning to the condemnation of him, calling his opponents “liars” and “cynics” who hate Judaism. He also said that “any media outlet that participates in this dance is a liar and trying to shut people up in the best case scenario.
“Yes, we love Shabbat, we love the Torah and we love Judaism,” he wrote on his Facebook page.
Smotrich said his comments expressed a religious inclination that anyone who observes Jewish law holds, and pointed out that he expressly stated these views could not be forced on others and he would not want to do so.
“We [the religious community] don’t live here alone and therefore we have to do everything to find solutions that take into account the entire public,” wrote Smotrich.
“But we are allowed, those who love Shabbat and experience this magical experience every week… to dream, and to aspire and to search for practical ways that this will be an experience and the reality of life of all the Jewish people.” he said.
The United Right put out a statement backing Smotrich, underlining that he had specifically stated that he does not want to force religion upon anyone.