Meet the new MK: Bezalel Smotrich

Bayit Yehudi’s Smotrich wants Israel to talk about Jewish rights to the land, instead of concessions.

April 7, 2015 00:12
Bezalel Smotrich.

Bezalel Smotrich.. (photo credit: Courtesy/Regavim)

Name: Bezalel Smotrich

Party: Bayit Yehudi

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Age: 35

Hometown: Kedumim in Samaria

Family status: Married, 5 children

Profession before becoming an MK: I was a lawyer by profession, and the head of the Regavim movement, which seeks to promote Zionist land policies.

Why did you decide to enter politics? The Knesset is the place to change things. You can make changes from the outside, which is important, and a lot can be done that way, but after years of extra-parliamentary activity, I think it’s time to be on the inside, and hopefully one day I will be in the government.

This is where policy is crafted, and if you want to have an influence, it’s the best place to be.

What are the first three bills you plan to propose?
There are a few areas on which I plan to focus, and I’ll give an example of a bill in each one.

In settlements in Judea and Samaria, I want to pass the “Norms Bill” [originally proposed by then-Bayit Yehudi MK Orit Struck in the previous Knesset] to ensure that every law the Knesset legislates will automatically apply to Israeli citizens in Judea and Samaria. There are over 400,000 Israeli citizens under military rule, even though they are part of Israeli democracy and vote for the Knesset.

They deserve democratic laws.

This isn’t annexation. It would keep military rule, but require the military to enact policies in Judea and Samaria that are identical to the laws passed.

With reserve duty, there is an injustice for those who are self-employed, because at the beginning of each year, he pays an advance to the NII [National Insurance Institute] based on an estimate of how much he will make and is paid for his reserve duty based on that. If he makes more money, he pays the NII at the end of the year, but he isn’t paid the difference for his time in reserves – he still gets the lower amount. It’s not logical.

Reserve duty should be incentivized, but at the very least reservists should be paid according to their realistic income.

I also want to enact a major reform in relations between elected officials and the judiciary. One of the simpler parts of that is having independent legal advisers in government ministries who are not working under the attorney- general. Those advisers should give advice that the ministers are not required to accept. The only person who can require a minister to do something is the court.

What was the most interesting experience on the campaign trail? I was on a lot of panels in high schools and I saw we have great youth who care about us and are opinionated. They ask good questions. The whole experience showed me that. People talk about our youth not having values and partying all day, but that is not what I saw. They care and want to be involved and they won’t accept superficial answers. That makes me optimistic and gives me hope.

This Knesset has a record high number of women and Israeli Arabs. How do you think this will affect the way it functions and the kinds of changes it brings? I wouldn’t compare the two.

I don’t see a difference with women. There are good and bad lawmakers of both genders. I judge each person individually, and I cooperate with people depending on their stances on an issue, not by gender.

With Israeli Arabs, their impact on the Knesset depends on them.

I would suggest that they make fewer provocations and stop trying to represent the Palestinians, who didn’t elect them, and work more to represent the people who sent them there. That’s why [Israeli- Arabs] went to vote. If the Arab MKs continue doing what they did until now, nothing will come of their higher numbers.

What is your position on talks with the Palestinian Authority and a possible Palestinian state? Bayit Yehudi is the only party that opposes a Palestinian state, not only as a temporary tactic because there’s no partner, but because we believe the Land of Israel – that includes Judea and Samaria – belongs to the people of Israel and there cannot be another entity west of the Jordan River. It’s a waste of time to even talk about it.

What we need to do is show the justice of our way. The problem is that, for many years, Palestinians talked about justice and we talked tactically, about security. We need to present the historic and moral justice of the Jewish people having the Land of Israel and explain that there is no way there can be a Palestinian state. I think the world will slowly recognize that, especially the Christian world, because it fits with their religion.

When we waste time negotiating something that will never happen, it brings international pressure.

When Israel says the solution is dividing the land, the world asks why we don’t do that already, and say they’ll give us more Iron Domes and whatnot to protect us.

I say, whoever has national aspirations, there are many countries around us where they can try to express them. Here in Israel, only Jewish people can express their national aspirations.

That’s why [Bayit Yehudi chairman Naftali] Bennett wants to be foreign minister. He wants to change the discourse. We need a change in our public diplomacy.

What should the government’s response be to growing global anti-Semitism? I think we need to call on world Jewry to make aliya. Anti-Semitism is not new and we get reminders all the time that the place for Jewish people is the Land of Israel, not Europe. At the end of the day, we need to explain our stances and our reality clearly, without other considerations getting in the way.

We should talk about how our place is in Israel and our position as a light unto the nations, and that will help us fight anti-Semitism.

Do you support maintaining the status quo on religion and state – including issues like marriage, public transportation on Shabbat and rights for non-Orthodox denominations of Judaism? I certainly do. There are changes that can be made to improve the situation, like to have a stronger Jewish identity for the country. I certainly think that in personal status matters, like marriage and divorce, people should go through the rabbinate, because that is what is keeping us as one nation. We may have differences of opinion, but we are still one people in the eyes of Judaism.

Our ability to remain one nation depends on [life-cycle events] happening according to the Orthodox consensus in Israel. A Reform person can have an Orthodox wedding and it will be universally recognized, but an Orthodox person can’t marry someone whose parents had a Reform wedding.

Look, I’m not a pluralist. I don’t think there is more than one truth.

I think there is a Torah from God and it’s clear how it reached us.

Orthodox Judaism is the true, authentic Judaism, and I am not willing to give other [denominations] legitimacy.

We could improve religious services, though, and have the rabbis be more pleasant, so that a wedding is a purely happy experience – but that is true in the Tax Authority and NII and anywhere the government provides services to people.

What can be done to lower the cost of housing? Housing prices, like everything else, are about supply and demand.

In order to increase supply, we need to put more land on the market and slash bureaucracy. We need to build a lot of homes. Former Construction Minister [Uri] Ariel [of Bayit Yehudi] broke the record for the most housing starts in a year since the establishment of the state, but it wasn’t enough and we need comprehensive reform.

We have to give local committees much more authority. Bureaucracy slows things down and raises costs. We need to make the planning process simpler. It cannot be that it takes years before homes can be built. We also need to make it easier to bring foreign workers to build and not constantly making new regulations for developers.

These things won’t take a day, but they can happen within a few years.

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