Sources described as close to Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said on Tuesday that an MK who called for Israel to become a halachic state would never be justice minister, despite previously being in contention for the post.
Bezalel Smotrich, a member of the national-religious United Right party, told the Israeli media on Monday, “The State of Israel will be run, God willing, as it was run during the days of King David and King Solomon — according to Torah law.”
Smotrich’s name had been mooted as a possible education or justice minister in the next governing coalition, though Netanyahu ultimately failed to form a government, prompting new Knesset elections to be called for September, just over five months after the previous ones were held.
According to Israeli news site Mako, anonymous sources from Netanyahu’s inner circle said, “Smotrich can forget about the justice portfolio.”
Smotrich responded sarcastically to the news, saying, “Come on, as if until yesterday Bibi Netanyahu was racing to give me the justice portfolio, and not, say, to Shelly Yachimovitch,” a reference to a Labor party politician who was reportedly offered the Justice Ministry in a last-ditch effort by Netanyahu to bring Labor into a possible coalition.
Itamar Ben-Gvir, a Kahanist member of the United Right, also struck out at Netanyahu, saying the news “smells to me like an excuse to not offer my friend Bezalel the portfolio.”
Ben-Gvir added that this excuse, together with the news about Yachimovich, should lead to the “obvious conclusion” that voters should vote as far right as possible in the next elections “so Netanyahu will have no choice but to give Smotrich the Justice Ministry.”
Smotrich’s first remarks prompted criticism from across the political spectrum, with Netanyahu himself simply saying, “The State of Israel will not be a halachic state.”
Kichol V’lavan party co-chairman Yair Lapid said, “Anyone who hears Smotrich explain that he wants to be justice minister so there will be Torah law and a halachic state in Israel can understand everything insane about the days we’re living in.”
Head of the left-wing Meretz party Tamar Zandberg said Smotrich should be blocked from holding government office, stating, “It is clear that there cannot be a justice minister serving in Israel who wants to establish a theocracy.”