Religious Zionist Party (RZP) MK and Otzma Yehudit faction head Itamar Ben-Gvir, expected to be a senior minister in the upcoming government, has made a number of statements over the past few days regarding his intentions for policy changes, raising concern from some.
Here are five of the core goals he hopes to achieve:
1. Prioritizing Orthodox Judaism over other denominations
Ben-Gvir and his party members have expressed the need to highlight Orthodoxy in the public as well as private sphere – over other denominations. From a policy perspective, this translates to there not being a need for an egalitarian prayer section at the Western Wall (Kotel). It would also mean no recognition by the Israeli government of Reform and Conservative conversions, as well as no more general support for these movements.
Currently, Jerusalem supports progressive Judaism both in Israel and the Diaspora through different channels and ministries. The Diaspora Affairs Ministry has been supporting Reform and Conservative causes and projects for many years; the current coalition has tried to increase this support.
The expectation is that budgets for these movements, as for other liberal and progressive causes, may be canceled under the new government.
In addition, the egalitarian prayer section of the Kotel will be under threat of being shut down. “We oppose the outline of the Western Wall that seeks to divide [it] and harm its unity,” the party said. “You have to respect the tradition, maintain the custom that has existed in the plaza for years, allow everyone to feel at home there and prevent interventions and provocations.”
2. Amending the Law of Return
Amendments to the Law of Return were demanded by Ben-Gvir and RZP as part of the coalition negotiations.
The demand is to cancel the “grandchild clause,” which guarantees that a person who is a third-generation Jew can immigrate to Israel. This possible amendment will mainly affect olim from former Soviet Union (FSU) countries, but also on those from Western countries who aren’t halachically Jewish.
Reports circulated on Sunday that Ben-Gvir demanded to overturn a High Court ruling that recognizes Reform conversion for the purpose of qualifying under the Law of Return.
3. Removing pressure toward haredim regarding IDF service and learning basic secular studies
“The ultra-Orthodox sector is going through excellent social processes; any coercion will set these processes back,” states the RZP platform.
“There are other ways to encourage secular studies without violating the basic rights of children,” Ben-Gvir tweeted in September. He offered “to fund free secular studies reinforcement in ultra-Orthodox community centers in the afternoons. The haredim are our brothers. Enough with the hypocrisy.”
4. Increasing curriculum materials of Judaism and Jewish identity to Israeli schools and the IDF
“The role of the IDF is to win wars and protect Israel’s security, not to promote progressive social agendas, and this is the one and only prism through which decisions on women’s service in the IDF should be made,” reads RZP’s platform.
“Mixed units are a detriment to the IDF’s operations, its competence and its ability to fulfill its tasks.”Bezalel Smotrich
“Mixed units are a detriment to the IDF’s operations, its competence and its ability to fulfill its tasks,” Smotrich said in 2019 in an interview with Army Radio. “My expectation from the IDF is not to try to promote an agenda,” he added, responding to an IDF report showing that there has been an increase in the number of abortions among female soldiers, which cost the military approximately NIS 5 million.
In 2018, after the IAF chief’s decision to appoint the first-ever female squadron commander, Smotrich said, “there are positions suitable for men... and positions suitable for women... that is how God created the world and that is what is good for the world.” Fully integrating women into the IDF would result in their “becoming” men, he said.
The RZP platform suggested that for those who are against what is negatively referred to as hadata (religious coercion), promote “a concept designed to delegitimize those who seek to give a real expression to the existence of a Jewish state within the democratic system.
“In today’s Israel there is much more secular coercion than religious coercion and in fact, the country is run much more like a secular country than a religious one,” the platform continues.
5. Altering Jewish prayer rules on the Temple Mount
Ben-Gvir has been very vocal about the right of Jews to pray freely on the Temple Mount – where today, only Muslims are allowed to pray there, the place considered the holiest site in Judaism.
“There is no place for racism against Jews in Jerusalem or anywhere else,” the party told Ynet. “Freedom of worship is a democratic principle and is bound by reality.
“I am here, we are the owners, Israel is the owner of the Temple Mount,” Ben-Gvir said during a visit there in August on Tisha Be’av.
“It is time that we prove it to them – we must crush the Islamic Jihad. This is a very important opportunity,” Ben-Gvir said as he was circling the Temple Mount compound. He said that he will “remind everyone that we are the owners of the holiest place for the people of Israel.”