Will a Netanyahu-Ben-Gvir gov't change Israel as a Jewish state? - analysis

The Religious Zionist Party has doubled its seats in the next government: The surge from seven seats to 14 or 15 will dramatically affect the possible right-wing government.

 Jewish Power party leader Itamar Ben-Gvir?arrives at his party headquarters on the day of Israel's election in Jerusalem November 1, 2022. (photo credit: REUTERS/CORINNA KERN)
Jewish Power party leader Itamar Ben-Gvir?arrives at his party headquarters on the day of Israel's election in Jerusalem November 1, 2022.
(photo credit: REUTERS/CORINNA KERN)

Both the Religious Zionist Party (RZP) and the Otzma Yehudit Party that joined it looked very similar on Tuesday evening after the polls offered that their joint list received between 14 and 15 seats in Tuesday’s election.

Party members on both sides were singing and dancing in circles while modern Jewish music was playing in the background, displaying signs of joy and pride. Although both parties are comprised of men wearing kippahs and tzitziot, they see themselves as very different from each other.

The shared list has doubled (and possibly more than doubled) its seats in the next government. The surge from seven seats to 14 or 15 will dramatically affect the likely right-wing government if they actually join it as a bloc of the two smaller parties that have joined forces with the support of former prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu.

RZP head Bezalel Smotrich ran in the list with Otzma Yehudit head and extreme right candidate Itamar Ben-Gvir, an individual with ties to Kach, a radical, Orthodox Jewish ultranationalist party that existed in Israel until 1994. According to polls, RZP will be the third-largest party in the upcoming Knesset.

RZP holds newfound parliamentary power

The party has a few main topics that it wishes to promote, but the ones most relevant to Diaspora Jews and secular Israelis are putting forward very conservative views regarding security, religion and state, and of course Israel-Diaspora relations.

Smotrich has said that he will strengthen Judea and Samaria and preferably ask for the Defense Ministry portfolio; Ben-Gvir is interested in leading the Public Security Ministry.

The second dramatic agenda has to do with a wide range of issues regarding religion and state. Both parties have a very conservative, and at times extreme agenda in order to “strengthen Israel’s Jewish character.”

The Jewish character that the RZP is looking to promote in Israel is at times even more extreme than the ultra-Orthodox. party members such as MK Avi Maoz, who represents the tiny Noam Party, Rabbi Amichai Eliyahu and Smotrich himself would like to strengthen the Chief Rabbinate, totally cancel the Kotel deal, then distance the Reform and Conservative movements in Israel and try to freeze the small amount of funds that they have received to date.

 MK ITAMAR Ben-Gvir, head of the Otzma Yehudit political party, and MK Bezalel Smotrich, chairman of the Religious Zionist Party, at an election campaign event in Sderot earlier this month (credit: FLASH90) MK ITAMAR Ben-Gvir, head of the Otzma Yehudit political party, and MK Bezalel Smotrich, chairman of the Religious Zionist Party, at an election campaign event in Sderot earlier this month (credit: FLASH90)

Part of their agenda regarding religion and state is demanding the Diaspora Affairs Ministry portfolio. There are a number of party members who have begun quietly campaigning for the opportunity to become Diaspora Affairs minister if they join the government.

Possible candidates would be Eliyahu, the son of Safed’s Chief Rabbi Shmuel Eliyahu, and former World Bnei Akiva CEO Ohad Tal.

“We will amend the Law of Return and its different stipulations to reflect current trends in Israel and ensure Jewish continuity in the Land of Israel,” the RZP platform states. According to the official document, the party wants to “annul” the “Grandchild Clause,” which was legislated in 1970, allowing those with at least one Jewish grandparent to make aliyah and become Israeli citizens.

Many of the olim to Israel from Russia and Ukraine aren’t halachically Jewish, but they are still entitled to become Israelis because they have at least one Jewish grandparent. Will this change in a Netanyahu/ Smotrich/Ben-Gvir government? It is now more probable than ever before.

All of the reforms that former religious services minister Matan Kahana promoted such as kashrut and conversion will be sent back in time, and the party has said that it will insist on electing a Religious Zionist rabbi as the next chief rabbi of Israel.

“We will take a strong stand against the legal loopholes exploited by the Supreme Court with regard to Shabbat, conversions, kashrut, the independent functioning of rabbinical courts and defining the State of Israel as a Jewish state,” the RZP platform states.

In addition, the platform specified that it will “shore up the conversion system by passing the National Conversion Bill that will ensure that all conversions are conducted in accordance with Torah law and under the auspices of the Chief Rabbinate.”

In addition to making amendments in the Law of Return, RZP plans to “abolish” what it calls Yisrael Beytenu head Avigdor Liberman’s “Passport Law” and “stop handing out Israeli passports to non-Jews who exploit the law to scam the State of Israel,” according to the platform.

The Passport Law allows olim to receive Israeli passports without having to actually live in Israel. The RZP wants to make an amendment to this law.

Regarding the promotion of traditional family values, the party said it will “block laws that seek to undermine the fundamental foundations of the family unit.” This is apparently referring to laws for same-sex couples and the like. In addition, it was stated that the RZP will “work to promote the birthrate and reduce the cost of living, specifically the cost of food and daycare.”

Future MK Tal told The Jerusalem Post a week ago that his party hopes to make changes in issues regarding aliyah programs and benefits. According to Tal, there are “50,000 French Jews who, according to a recent study, would like to immigrate to Israel as soon as possible, but cannot make the move in the absence of a proactive plan to promote their aliyah.”

He also said that most of the aliyah benefits aren’t relevant to olim from Western countries, but for immigrants from Russia and Ethiopia.

Both the White House and senior American Jewish figures have stressed that they won’t meet with Ben-Gvir if he becomes a minister. Many American Jewish organizations have said off the record that they would not only have a difficult time meeting with ministers from this party, they will have extreme discomfort with accepting this type of government at all.

A Netanyahu/Smotrich/Ben-Gvir government will be very problematic for most American Jews, who are for the most part progressive and liberal.

Smotrich, who was asked by the UK’s Jewish community umbrella organization to leave their country because of his views, has lately been seen as less of an extreme politician than he used to be, especially since Ben-Gvir began to stand to his Right.

Even though the RZP wasn’t enthusiastic about running together with Otzma Yehudit, Ben-Gvir was good for Smotrich. The criticism that is directed toward them enjoys a more mainstream approach by the latter.