When a Jewish Fundamentalist Becomes a Powerful Minister

A story is told about two Israelis on a trip to Switzerland. They stop a passerby, hoping he will be able to indicate to them how to get to the address they were looking for. The friendly local looks at them amiably but does not understand the two men’s language.

“Do you speak English?” the man asks the two Israelis.

-As they shake their head in the negative, he asks again, this time in French: “Parlez-vous Français?”

-Then in German” Sprechen sie Deutsch?”

-“Hablan Español?”

“voi due parlate italiano??”

With an apologetic expression, the Swiss turns around and continues on his way.

One of the Israelis says to the other: “How fantastic is it to speak so many languages!”

To which the other responds: “I don’t know what is so fantastic about; he wasn’t able to understand me!”

When asked if he had ever traveled abroad, the now Israeli Finance Minister, also a Minister within the Defense Ministry and scheduled to become Interior Minister in one year or so, answered: “No way.”

– “I’ve been abroad once when I went to Manhattan for a week to raise money.” Pridefully, he added to his record that he doesn’t know English.

Born in a religious Israeli settlement in the Golan Heights and having grown up in Beit El, a West Bank settlement, Bezalel Smotrich has an unavoidably limited knowledge of Israeli society, not to mention a lack of perspective on how the rest of the world views Israel.

His insularity is complemented by aligning his nationalistic idolatry of genes and soil with the separatism and isolationism of the Haredim (a.k.a. “Ultra-orthodox,” Jews living according to medieval religious codes). This new type of hybrid religiosity is called “hardali” (“nationalistic haredi” = in Hebrew “haredi leumi’,” plural “hardalim”).

Smotrich’s world said Tamar Kaplansky- a French-born journalist educated at Tel Aviv University- is narrower than an ant.  

A man who flaunts his blatant ignorance as if it’s something to brag about, a self-aggrandizer who disdains anything he doesn’t know and doesn’t understand.  People like Smotrich, she added, “reduce Judaism to the bare minimum- a simplistic and closed worldview, so fragile that any intellectual challenge threatens its survival.

According to Professor Tomer Persico-the Shalom Hartman Institute Bay area Scholar in Residence- the hardali- represented by Minister Smotrich,  seeks to preserve its identity by

teaching and promoting an antagonism towards the values of the modern West,

a longing for a mythical past while looking forward to a redemptive future that will restore it;

a clear hierarchy between men and women, as well as between Jews and non-Jews;

a desire to turn the State of Israel into a theocracy and a glorification of revenge.”

The most basic characteristics of fundamentalist religiosity, ads Professor Persico, is


“a perception of history by which what was true thousands of years ago is also valid today;

an ambition to shape contemporary life according to ancient ways, to thrust the past into the present;

And a literalist understanding of Scripture which reduces a rich religious tradition into a rigid and simplistic framework.”

“Service in the IDF’s mixed-gender units,” Smotrich told Army Radio’s Gal Gabbai, “harms its battle readiness and its ability to fulfill its assignments,” which prompted former Chief of Staff (and current head of the opposition centrist National Unity Party) Benny Gantz to retort: “I have news for Smotrich: women will serve in any place where they can contribute to the IDF and to everything else.”

The blue-eyed bearded settler who is “the ideological right’s most prominent figure, is considered by many to be “dragging entire communities, not just his own, into a showdown over Israel’s future.”

“Smotrich wants a religious war,”

stated former prime minister and Israel’s most decorated soldier, Ehud Barak.

When asked why he “liked” a tweet from the deputy head of the Samaria Regional Council demanding that  the Palestinian village of Hawara be “wiped out” after a mob of settlers went on a rampage and burned 36 homes, injured dozens of people, and allegedly killed Sameh Aqtash, 37, in retaliation for the killing of two Israeli brothers Hallel and Yagel Yaniv who were driving through the village, Smotrich said that he was in favor of “erasing the village.”

The Anti-Defamation League reacted on the spot, saying, “It’s inexcusable for Smotrich to incite mass violence against Palestinians as a form of collective punishment. Instead of condemning the riots in Hawara and acting to de-escalate the situation, Smotrich once again engages in violent, anti-Arab rhetoric.”

U.S.  State Department spokesman Ned Price called Smotrich’s remarks “irresponsible, repugnant and disgusting,” William Daroff, CEO of the Conference of Presidents of Major Jewish American Organizations, concurred. “His statement seeking to ‘wipe out’ Hawara was, as Price said, ‘irresponsible, repugnant and disgusting.’”

Back in 2016, Smotrich had said, “I don’t feel like a fifth wheel or like a guest in the state, “therefore, it is completely legitimate for me to try to influence and mold it according to my belief system.” And, he added:

“The world didn’t like the application of Israeli law in Jerusalem and the Golan Heights, but the sky didn’t fall; and by the same token, the world won’t like the application of Israeli law to Ma’aleh Adumim (an Israeli settlement 4.3. miles east of Jerusalem) but will accept it, and from there we will go on to apply Israeli law to all of Judea and Samaria.”

“Smotrich,” said the Swiss-Israel psychologist and philosopher Carlo Strenger, who died in 2019, “has a highly coherent, well-defined worldview based on a single starting point: All of the greater Land of Israel belongs to the Jews by virtue of God’s decree. No human-made law can compete with God’s will.”

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