Transportation Minister Bezalel Smotrich on Monday once again sparked controversy with remarks favoring a theocratic government.
“We all, if we could, would like the State of Israel to act according to the Torah and Jewish law. We just can’t because there are other people who think differently, and we need to get along with them. But we often encounter supposed contradictions that can be mitigated without needing to pay a price,” Smotrich said at a conference of rabbis in Jerusalem.
Smotrich began his remarks by saying, “I believe that with care and attention, we can solve a majority of the problems” between Israel’s secular and religious sectors. “Without a doubt,” he continued, “one of the hot potatoes at the Transportation Ministry is work on Shabbat—infrastructure work, the train, the Yehudit Bridge [in Tel Aviv]. It seems to me that, just like we can have industry that is sustainable and doesn’t pollute the atmosphere, we can have a modern state carrying out infrastructure work on a grand scale—without violating Shabbat.”
Smotrich emphasized that to accomplish this will take great care, including in the early planning stages of any infrastructure work.
“If Shabbat is an important value, then … [the planners would know] this needs to be taken into consideration from the first stage. This is true regarding the question of whether we close a road or not. Roads are closed for competitions and marches, roads can also be closed to lay a bridge on a weekday. Where there are will and attention, both can be done. There is not always a contradiction.”
Yisrael Beiteinu Party leader Avigdor Lieberman blasted Smotrich over the remarks.
“It is unbelievable how, yet again, without batting an eye, we hear Minister Smotrich declare that if it were up to him and his friends, they would cancel the laws of the State of Israel and impose on us a state governed by Jewish law.”
He added, “We’ve got news for you: You won’t need to get along with us because on Sept. 18 [the day after the election], a broad nationalist, liberal government will be established without you and without all those trying to force a state on us that is governed by Jewish law.”
Responding to Lieberman’s criticism, Smotrich said, “It was because of baseless hate that Jerusalem was destroyed. How sad that at the height of the days of mourning of Bein ha-Metzarim [the three weeks leading up to the Jewish holiday of Tisha B’Av], there are those among us who remind us of the terrible rift that led to nothing more than hate.”
“This morning, it was [Blue and White Party No. 2 Yair] Lapid, and this evening, it’s Lieberman. People tell me, ‘give it back to him,’ but I remind myself why I am not fixing my beard, why I’m avoiding eating meat, and following other mourning practices. I will not fall into this trap. Not at this time.”
“I suggest and ask that everyone, before they are influenced by the hatred and categorization, watch the full clip of my speech at the Beit Hill conference of rabbis,” said Smotrich, concluding with a biblical verse: “Therefore love truth and peace” (Zechariah 8:19).
Blue and White Party leader Benny Gantz took to Twitter to assert that “Smotrich wants a state governed by Jewish law. [Prime Minister Benjamin] Netanyahu will give it to him in return for immunity.”
In a statement, the Democratic Union said, “These are the people to whom the suspect from Balfour [Street in Jerusalem, where the Prime Minister’s Residence is located] has given the keys to run the state, and all so that they can rescue him from the terror of the law. We must win the coming election. A loss would mean Smotrich turning the State of Israel into a state governed according to Jewish law, in return for immunity from prosecution for Netanyahu.”
Smotrich once again responded to the criticism, saying, “The things I said are called consideration for other sectors of the public. This is a democracy. I am not prepared to have a sector trampled on because of my beliefs—not the haredim, not the secular. I am also prepared for a variety of opinions to be voiced, even if they are not my own. All of this is missing from Lieberman’s and Lapid’s discourse. Look at all of my remarks and not a quarter of a sentence.”
This article first appeared on Israel Hayom.