Smotrich, Ben-Gvir are damaging Israel’s Jewish character - opinion

If Bezalel Smotrich and Itamar Ben-Gvir become ministers, this could seriously damage support for Israel in America – maybe permanently.

 RELIGIOUS ZIONIST Party chairman Bezalel Smotrich discusses party policy at a news conference.  (photo credit: AVSHALOM SASSONI/FLASH90)
RELIGIOUS ZIONIST Party chairman Bezalel Smotrich discusses party policy at a news conference.
(photo credit: AVSHALOM SASSONI/FLASH90)

During this election cycle, several columns were published in The Jerusalem Post calling on Anglos to vote for the Religious Zionist Party. The main argument to support the party is to protect the Jewish character of the State of Israel.

Actually, the surge of the Religious Zionist Party in this election is a great threat to Israel’s Jewish religious character. I call on my fellow religious Zionists to stop the party before it damages Israel and its Jewish character.

Religious Zionism looks different today

Historically, the party of religious Zionists (then called the Mafdal, the National Religious Party) drew upon Jewish teachings and advocated human rights and social care for all. Mafdal was a force for unity (working with secular Jews, supporting the rights of Arabs and other minorities) and for moderation (seeking peace and supporting war only as a last resort). 

The present Religious Zionist Party is extremist, intolerant of secularist people and culture, anti-Arab. It is divisive (demeaning the Left and delegitimizing cooperation across Israel’s polarized lines). This election cycle, it merged with the Otzma Yehudit party, which is inspired by Meir Kahane and is out-and-out racist. (The party disguises its views a bit out of fear because Israeli law prohibits openly racist parties from participating in the political process.)

The Torah that the Religious Zionist Party teaches is inhumane and anti-democratic. The Talmud says that if one is worthy – that is, approaches the Torah in a proper spirit – it becomes a healing life medicine. If one interprets the Torah in an improper spirit, it becomes a poison (Yoma 72B). 

 Rabbi David Fine (L) is seen shaking hands with Religious Zionist Party leader MK Bezalel Smotrich. (credit: Yechiel Radutsky) Rabbi David Fine (L) is seen shaking hands with Religious Zionist Party leader MK Bezalel Smotrich. (credit: Yechiel Radutsky)

Otzma Yehudit is shaped by Kahane’s use of Maimonides’ rulings on ger toshav (non-Jews living permanently among Jews) to treat them as of second-class status and lacking citizenship rights. Their loyalty is impugned and they are constantly degraded, provoked and reminded that they are not Jews. This is just how dhimmi (including Jews) were treated in Muslim lands in pre-modern times.

The Religious Zionist Party leadership usually spins their words to say that they are only talking about disloyal Arabs. But they blatantly violate the Torah’s instruction to Jews not to oppress the ger/outsiders in our midst, because we remember how we were mistreated as outsiders in the land of Egypt. (Exodus 23:9). 

The Religious Zionist Party leadership has proclaimed that they would pass laws to let Benjamin Netanyahu off the hook from his trials for breach of trust and corruption – even though the Torah says that the king must also be ruled by the law (Deuteronomy 17:19) and that all citizens should be equal before the law. “There shall be one [standard of] law for you [the citizens, Jewish majority] and the outsider among you” (Numbers 9:14, 15:15). 

DEPUTY RELIGIOUS Services Minister Matan Kahana proposed two positive reforms. One was to encourage a diversity of hechsherim (kashrut authentications) to increase competition. This would limit the Chief Rabbinate’s monopoly, which has led to overcharging for supervision and corruption in the process. 

Secondly, the Chief Rabbinate has run a very restrictive conversion program that has left almost 400,000 Russian Jewish olim – even those who serve in the IDF – with the status of non-Jews. This creates a huge intermarriage problem for the next generation.

Kahana proposed to give additional municipal rabbis authority to do conversions and bring in a more liberal conversion process. This would increase the numbers converted. The Religious Zionist Party joined the haredim in opposing these improvements.

There has been a massive shift in public opinion on homosexuality. This is due to the development of scientific evidence that same-sex attraction is normal and based on genetic/hormonal factors – albeit this is only a minority sexual orientation. Israel is a world leader in protecting the rights of LGBTQ people.

 Otzma Yehudit MK Itamar Ben-Gvir, Religious Zionist Party head Bezalel Smotrich and other right-wing politicians attend a demonstration at the West Bank settlement of Homesh (credit: SAMARIA REGIONAL COUNCIL) Otzma Yehudit MK Itamar Ben-Gvir, Religious Zionist Party head Bezalel Smotrich and other right-wing politicians attend a demonstration at the West Bank settlement of Homesh (credit: SAMARIA REGIONAL COUNCIL)

Many modern Orthodox rabbis are seeking to welcome religious LGBTQ people, and treat them respectfully in the community.

However, the Religious Zionists incorporated the Noam party into its list and gave it an MK seat, although it is uncompromisingly homophobic. Bezalel Smotrich continues to denounce gay people as “deviants,” thus violating the halacha of lo’eg l’rosh [literally mocking a poor person] i.e. verbally abusing a person who cannot change the condition for which they are being attacked.

The low ethical and humane standards that the Religious Zionist Party exhibits constitute a chillul Hashem, a desecration of God’s name, because they fall below the standards of the decent opinions of mankind. Such behavior by haredi authorities, in the past generation, drove people away from Judaism and led them to disrespect the Torah.

Over the next generation, the Religious Zionist Party’s policies can lead to rejection and degradation of Israel’s Jewish character. 

The Religious Zionist Party platform is a major threat to the security of the State of Israel. The primary foundation and strongest basis of the US becoming Israel’s greatest ally and international protector is Americans’ conviction in our shared values. Israel is seen as a high-quality democracy, as is the US. The American public overwhelmingly supports the Jewish state because it is seen as an embattled democracy. 

Implications of electing the Religious Zionist Party

The Religious Zionist Party will enable a government that discriminates, that imposes religious coercion, that mistreats its non-Jewish minorities. If Smotrich and Itamar Ben-Gvir become ministers, this could seriously damage support for Israel in America – maybe permanently. This loss of support could cost many Israeli lives if Israel has to fight alone for its existence. Halacha says that pikuach nefesh (saving lives) is the highest overriding principle in the Torah. 

EVERYONE WHO wants to protect Israel’s Jewish character should withhold his/her vote from the Religious Zionist Party. It is equally important to reach out to your friends and neighbors and convince them not to support this party. At present, the party is polling at 12-13 mandates, which could enable it to play a central role in creating an anti-democratic coalition

To those who say that they will only vote for a party with policies on the Right, there is the option of Benny Gantz and Gideon Sa’ar’s National Unity party. To those who make a state for the Palestinians their red line politically, the option is to recognize that Yair Lapid will enable a two-state solution only if a new democratic Palestinian leadership (that accepts Israel’s right to exist as a Jewish state) emerges. This will not happen without a fundamental change of heart and a repudiation of terror by the Palestinians. 

In the meantime, save us from a chillul Hashem, from a degradation of Israel’s democracy and a security catastrophe by checking the Religious Zionist Party before it wrecks the cause of religious Zionism and Israel’s reputation.

The writer is an American oleh. In the US, he was a leader in the modern Orthodox rabbinate and in the work of linking American Jewry and Israel. He was founding president of the Jewish Life Network/Steinhardt Foundation, which led in the creation of Birthright Israel.