Israel Elections: What is the Religious Zionist Party's agenda?

The Religious Zionist Party secured six seats and 225,000 votes in the election, giving it small but significant representation, and huge leverage.

Bezalel Smotrich is seen with supporters and party members at the Religious Zionist Party headquarters in Modi'in, on elections night, March 23, 2021. (photo credit: SRAYA DIAMANT/FLASH90)
Bezalel Smotrich is seen with supporters and party members at the Religious Zionist Party headquarters in Modi'in, on elections night, March 23, 2021.
(photo credit: SRAYA DIAMANT/FLASH90)

The Knesset debut of the ultra-nationalist Religious Zionist Party (RZP), which includes the far-right Kahanist Otzma Yehudit Party and the anti-LGBT Noam Party, has caused not a little anguish on the Left.


RZP secured six seats and 225,000 votes in the election, giving it a significant representation, and hopes of greater ideological influence in putting together a national-religious government.

The party published a detailed manifesto laying out its policy goals on a range of matters, including settlements, religion and state, and diminishing the power of the High Court. 

The party has been reluctant, like many parties ahead of the election, to detail what ministerial portfolios it would seek.

Given the final election results in which the pro-Netanyahu bloc secured 59 seats, two less than a majority, RZP leaders and officials have been even more reluctant to discuss the issue.

However, party leader Bezalel Smotrich said in an interview last month on 103 Radio that he wants to be chairman of the Knesset Constitution, Law and Justice Committee.

He said he would use the chairmanship of the committee for the first hundred days of any government he was part of to pass a law that would override the High Court’s ability to strike down Knesset legislation.

Much of the Israeli right, and the RZP in particular, have fulminated for years against the High Court’s intervention on the issue of
settlement construction on private Palestinian land, on laws to detain African asylum seekers and migrants, and other issues where it believes the court does not have a mandate to intervene.

Both Smotrich and Ben-Gvir have frequently denounced the High Court, most recently its ruling banning the government from preventing citizens abroad from returning to Israel during the corona lockdown, and the decision recognizing the right of Reform and Conservative converts in Israel to be granted citizenship under the Law of Return.

Smotrich also said he would use the committee to change the way judges are selected, and to divide the position of attorney general into two: a chief legal adviser and a chief prosecutor.

The Jerusalem Post understands that ultimately Smotrich would like to be appointed justice minister, although it would be difficult to obtain such a powerful ministry with just six seats.

Ben-Gvir has expressed interest in serving on the Committee for Selecting Judges, to change what he and his party perceive to be left-liberal control of the justice system.

Asked Wednesday night on Channel 12 what position he would like in government, Ben-Gvir said minister for security in the Negev and Galilee, although no such ministry currently exists.

The Negev and Galilee have large Arab populations, and Ben-Gvir and Otzma Yehudit are notoriously hostile to Israel’s Arab citizens.

A clause in Otzma Yehudit’s own manifesto states that the party “will work to remove the enemies of Israel from our country,” while another clause talks of “encouraging” Arab emigration from Israel, the West Bank and Gaza.

Otzma member Baruch Marzel, who was disqualified from running for the Knesset by the High Court for racist remarks, said in a 2019 interview that he believed “the majority” of Arab citizens of Israel are enemies, “but not all of them, I’m not including 100 percent.”

In his Channel 12 interview, Ben-Gvir said that “Jews there [in the Negev and Galilee] are groaning,” and “women are being harassed and call the police and there is no police. It’s terrible.”

The Noam party, which united with Otzma before the unity deal with Smotrich, is mostly focused on opposing the LGBT community and policies granting them more rights.

The spiritual leader of the party, Rabbi Tzvi Tau, one of the most conservative leaders of the hard-line wing of the religious-Zionist movement, has called for confronting equal rights for the LGBT community.

In comments revealed by Channel 12 on Wednesday night, Tau was heard to state that “these homosexuals, these sexual deviants, are wretched people.”

He also alleged that LGBT activists have “penetrated the Education Ministry and into the youngest classes where the children have no idea at all, and they insert post-modern values, post-modern poison.”

It is unclear what kind of position Noam representative Avi Maoz would seek, although a seat on the Knesset Education Committee would not be a surprise given the strong concerns of Tau and others regarding the influence of education on sexual inclination and the family unit.