Root out extremism

The gap between governments opens up a dangerous crack that is enabling the expression of dangerous ideas and pledges.

June 5, 2019 22:34
3 minute read.
Root out extremism

Coalition talks between UTJ, Likud and Shas . (photo credit: UTJ)

The chaos and uncertainty into which the current political reality has thrust the country is not good for anyone. Ministries unmanned, campaign posturing and legislative limbo are not healthy for a democracy that requires at least a modicum of stability.

Moreover, the gap between governments opens up a dangerous crack that is enabling the expression of dangerous ideas and pledges, which in normal times would be laughed off but in today’s environment must be taken seriously.
Take the latest utterances by Bezalel Smotrich of the Union of Right-Wing Parties, likely a minister if a right-wing government is formed after the next elections. Speaking at the Merkaz Harav yeshiva in Jerusalem on Sunday to mark Jerusalem Day, Smotrich announced that he would seek the Justice portfolio “in order to restore our judges as of old,” and “to restore” Torah law to the Jewish state.

Speaking to KAN Radio the next morning, Smotrich clarified that he was talking about a “long-term” plan, but took the opportunity to further criticize the justice system. “The laws of Torah are far more preferable than the state of law instituted by Aharon Barak,” he said, referring to the Supreme Court president who advanced judicial activism in the 1990s.

“The State of Israel and the state of the Jewish people will return to be governed as it was governed in the days of King David and King Solomon: by Torah law, obviously in accordance with our days, our challenges and economy, and how society lives in 2019,” added Smotrich.

The haredi United Torah Judaism Party, another of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s probable coalition partners if he is slated to form the next government again, also made waves this week among Israelis – secular and religious – who believe it is important to retain Israel’s modern democratic character along with tradition.

According to KAN, one of the party’s demands during the last round of coalition talks with the Likud was a clause that would require the government to pass a law allowing for gender separation in public.

The demand stated that within 90 days of the formation of the coalition, the government must “amend the law so as to allow the provision of public services, studies, events and similar [things] in which men and women are separated. This separation will not be considered discriminatory according to the law.”

It also stipulated that the law be amended to ban civil lawsuits or class action suits for gender separation on a religious basis without proof of damages.

Thankfully, the responses to both Smotrich and UTJ were swift and decisive. The Likud said it never agreed to UTJ’s demand on this issue, and Netanyahu doused Smotrich’s Torah law idea by tweeting: “The State of Israel will not be a halachic state.”

Those are the proper responses, but what happens after the next election? What if Netanyahu discovers that Smotrich and his cronies, or UTJ, are turning the screws next round as coalition-building time comes down to the wire once again, and insist that their dangerous and extreme ideas become government policy?

That’s the danger of playing with the fire sparked by courting only the most right-wing and religious elements of the political spectrum. Predictably, but not without weight, Yisrael Beytenu’s Avigdor Liberman exploited the disclosures as ammunition for his campaign against “turning the State of Israel into a halachic state,” and the Labor Party’s Shelly Yacimovich called Smotrich’s comments “a signpost for the wave of conservatism washing over us from [those elected] on the Right.”

Instead of entertaining ideas that would completely undermine Israel’s democratic character, why doesn’t Netanyahu consider a different idea: Now that he does not have a government, and before he goes to elections and possibly forms one with the haredim, why not pass and implement the Kotel decision from 2016?

Such a move would send a clear message to the Diaspora that the government of Israel stands with it and, despite all of the tension, still believes that Israel is a state for all Jews no matter who they are and how they practice their religion.

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