Religious Zionists cry ‘media lynch’ for wanting Israeli state run by Jewish law

The transportation minister hit back at critics after a speech in which he said he would like a state run by Jewish law.

By Batya Jerenberg, World Israel News

The United Right party called the wave of criticism directed at Transportation Minister Betzalel Smotrich a “media lynch” Tuesday after he said that he wanted the state to follow Jewish law, but he made it clear that he would not coerce anyone in religious matters.

Smotrich spoke Monday to a religious audience in Beit Hillel about the possibility of taking the Sabbath into consideration when planning infrastructure projects.

He said he believed that “with care and attention, most of the problems can be solved,” so that the Jewish day of rest could still be kept while the state built roads and bridges.

What aroused the ire of political opponents, and what the media fastened on to, were his comments that “we all want the State of Israel to follow the law of the Torah.” His remarks echoed similar ones he made in June that also led to a firestorm of protest.

Although Smotrich added, “We just can’t because there are people who think differently and we need to get along with them,” opposition parties immediately jumped on his comments.

Israel Beitenu head Avigdor Liberman charged that Smotrich and his United Right party would “force a halachic state on us,” using the Hebrew term for Jewish law. The Blue and White party said that “Netanyahu will give [a halachic state] to [Smotrich] in exchange for immunity” from prosecution. Netanyahu faces possible indictment in a number of corruption cases.

The United Right put out a statement Tuesday condemning the incitement.

“The media lynch being carried out now is the ugly silencing by the Left, Liberman, and certain parts of the media motivated by hatred of Judaism and political interests. Freedom of speech does not belong to one side only,” the statement read.

“What has been going on since yesterday is a classic case of silencing of the ugliest kind,” Smotrich wrote on the Mako news site, suggesting that the media were deliberately ignoring his full remarks.

“I emphasized in the same breath that we all also understand well that we can’t, and mainly have no desire, to force our beliefs [on anyone]…. And I stress again to all those who stubbornly insist on not understanding and inciting: I don’t believe in religious coercion. It’s impossible to keep the commandments out of coercion, it has to be out of faith, love and deep inner commitment,” he said.

He added, however, that “Those … who see the Sabbath as an inseparable part of the identity of the Jewish people are allowed to dream, desire and search for practical ways to make it part of the broad reality of the Jewish people.”