Netanyahu aims for Likud to keep Education Ministry after Smotrich scandal

Netanyahu’s remarks came the day after comments by National Union chairman Bezalel Smotrich, of the Union of Right-Wing Parties (URP) about education made waves.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and MK Bezalel Smotrich (photo credit: MARC ISRAEL SELLEM/THE JERUSALEM POST)
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and MK Bezalel Smotrich
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu hopes to have Likud retain the Education Ministry if he forms the next government, he said at a Likud faction meeting Monday, after Bezalel Smotrich of the Union of Right-Wing Parties (URP) discussed his controversial plans if he gets the post.
“I want to tell you that the Education portfolio will stay in our hands, in the Likud’s hands,” Netanyahu said to his party’s candidates for the Knesset. “This is an important matter and [is] what we aspire to do in order to continue to confer Zionism and excellence to all the children of Israel.”
The Likud faction meeting took place at the Menachem Begin Heritage Center, in honor of the 27th anniversary of the former prime minister’s death. Netanyahu said that “Zionism and excellence” will help Israel’s young people have “roots deep in the ground, while growing branches higher and higher.
“I think that is the essence of what is important to us to give to the next generation,” the prime minister said, adding that Likud must get enough votes to be a big party for that to happen.
Netanyahu’s remarks came the day after comments about education by Smotrich, National Union chairman  in the URP, made waves.
Speaking at a conference on Sunday, Smotrich spoke out against education toward democratic values.
“For many years, there has been religious coercion in the education system,” he began. “Civics [curricula] force all of us to learn the religion of liberal democracy. If I will be education minister, I will cancel the coercion in the education system. We will be much more pluralist and open to different attitudes, while at the same time making sure every child will recognize the identity and heritage of the Jewish people.”
Smotrich clarified to The Jerusalem Post that he thinks Israelis should learn about democracy, but argued that the current civics curriculum in Israel reflects a progressive political agenda, which he would seek to change in favor of providing different perspectives.
The religious-Zionist parties making up URP traditionally ask for the Education Ministry in coalition negotiations, and Smotrich has the option of taking the senior portfolio offered to his list, making him a realistic candidate for education minister despite Netanyahu’s statement.
Smotrich said he thinks education is a very important ministry in that “it really shapes the future generation…education is our real security. I think religious Zionism should retain the portfolio to preserve a lot of good that is already being done and to change the bad.”
Smotrich’s views on education and more will be featured in Friday’s Jerusalem Post Magazine.
Also in the Likud faction meeting, Netanyahu laid out the party’s talking points for the upcoming election.
A source in the meeting said Netanyahu is aiming to get two more seats’ worth of votes that were “stolen” by Blue and White, as he put it.
Netanyahu said the campaign is targeting center-right voters to return to Likud.
“When they know the truth, that Lapid and Gantz are a left-wing party pretending to be Right, they will return to Likud,” he stated.
Many of the arguments to be made while campaigning have already been on display, and revolve mainly around painting rival Blue and White as left-wing and emphasizing MK Yair Lapid over former IDF chief of staff Benny Gantz, who is first on the party’s list.
Lapid and Gantz have a rotation for the premiership by which, if they win the election, Gantz will be prime minister for the first 2.5 years and then Lapid will take his place.
“It’s important for people to know that they are voting for Lapid as prime minister,” Netanyahu said. “When you vote for Gantz, you get Lapid as prime minister. People still don’t understand it. The public knows Lapid was a failed finance minister and that he’s Left.”
Netanyahu referred to oft-repeated Likud lines, such as that Blue and White will need Meretz and Arab parties in order to be appointed to form the next government, and that Gantz and Lapid want to evacuate more settlements, saying those messages will bring voters back to Likud.
“When the public understands their real stances, they will come back to the Likud and we will be able to form a right-wing government,” he said.
In addition, Netanyahu said the public does not like Histadrut Labor Union leader Avi Nissenkorn, who is fifth on the Blue and White list, that Likud’s economic views are “the total opposite of theirs,” and that he seeks to create competition and open the market in order to lower prices.
In reality, there are several strong pro-union candidates on the Likud list, including Welfare Minister Haim Katz who used to head the Israel Aerospace Industries union, and there is tension within the party over economic policies, though Netanyahu is firmly on the side of a free market.