Middle east

Defying Labels Attached to Them, Religious Zionist Union Says They are Not ‘Extremists,’ Here’s Why

They received six seats at Israel’s parliament, the Knesset. And although the country’s media tried to delegitimise them, a member of the bloc says the majority of the Israeli public is supportive of their views.

Before the Israeli parliamentary elections that took place on 23 March very few media polls predicted that the Religious Zionist Union, a technical bloc of three parties, would pass the threshold of 3.25 percent that would let them in into the Knesset.  

But after votes have been counted, it turns out they did, and many Israeli media outlets opened a delegitimisation campaign against them.

Much has been said about the Religious Zionist Union and the people that are part of that bloc. Batzalel Smotrich, the man who stands at the helm of the bloc, was branded as “more dangerous than an ordinary right-wing extremist”. 

Itamar Ben Gvir, number 3 on that list, has always been considered a radical, after confessing he framed on a wall a photo of Baruch Goldstein, the Jewish extremist who murdered 29 Palestinian worshippers at the Cave of the Patriarchs in 1994.

Avi Maoz, the Union’s number 6, who rejects the rights of minorities and the LGBT community, has been branded an “extremist”.

Accusations of Extremism Not Accepted 

Simcha Rothman, a lawyer who will be sworn in as a member of Knesset later today, refuses to accept the labels that have been attached to his party and says his views are not at all radical. 

“Unlike Ultra-Orthodox parties, we do have female representation. As for the LGBT community… we do not support their lifestyle but this doesn’t stem from phobias or hatred. We are a religious party and as such we want to retain the Jewish heritage and that has repercussions”.

Rothman says his opinions are not that uncommon. In fact, they are shared by the majority of the Israeli public that in the last several years has tilted towards the right and by a big number of lawmakers.

“Out of 120 Knesset members, 70 or 75 think like me. And it is not only on issues concerning security and the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. It is on the economy and many other topics.”

If that is the case and Israel manages to form a right-wing coalition in the upcoming weeks (a process that has so far been painful), it will be easier for Rothman and other members of the Knesset to promote laws and legislation that would sit well with their world views.

Jewish Heritage in the Front 

One of the issues he promises to focus on is judiciary activism, and its alleged interference in Israel’s political affairs. 

Throughout the years, conservative politicians from various parties have expressed their frustration at the growing interference of the judiciary in Israeli politics, a process that accelerated in the 90s. 

They vented anger at the High Court for refusing to approve the demolition of the homes of Palestinians who were accused of involvement in terror activity, and for not allowing the security forces to act as they wished when it came to curbing the threat of extremists, and for its decision to abolish some of the laws that were passed by the Knesset. 

Multiple attempts have been made to stop that encroachment, but very little has been achieved. 

A right-wing government, if it is ever established, could potentially put an end to this process. 

“The first law that we would like to promote would be the override clause that will enable the Knesset, not the Court, to have a final say on legislation,” Rothman said, referring to a bid that was turned down in 2020 after it failed to collect enough signatures.

“We want to change the way Israel appoints judged and we want to implement other modifications in our justice system,” he added.

Changes are also expected in the education system, where an emphasis will be placed on Jewish traditions, identity and heritage and on the issue of settlements in the West Bank, where Israel will be expanding its presence and extending its sovereignty over some of its parts. 

Rothman knows that the passing of these and similar laws will not be taken lightly by the international community. Previously, construction of more units in the West Bank has prompted harsh criticism and the boycott of Israeli products, whereas sovereignty plans have stirred condemnation.

But Rothman says the opinion of the international community did not matter.

“This is not their business what laws Israel passes regarding its judiciary, for example. The issue of Judea and Samaria (a Jewish term for the areas of the West Bank – ed.) might prompt criticism and it will need to be taken care of. But Israel should first care about its citizens, not what others will say”.

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