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Israel’s New Government Isn’t What You’ve Heard

Israel’s New Government Isn’t What You’ve Heard

Contrary to U.S. media reports, we seek to bring the Jewish state closer to the American model.


By Bezalel Smotrich, WSJ

Dec. 27, 2022 6:14 pm ET


The U.S. media has vilified me and the traditionalist bloc to which I belong since our success in Israel’s November elections. They say I am a right-wing extremist and that our bloc will usher in a “halachic state” in which Jewish law governs. In reality, we seek to strengthen every citizen’s freedoms and the country’s democratic institutions, bringing Israel more closely in line with the liberal American model.


Israel is a Jewish and democratic state and will remain so. After five elections in less than five years and suffering the rule of a weak and fractious coalition dependent on a radical Islamist party’s backing for a year and a half, the country has finally formed a popular and stable government. Our bloc will strengthen Israel in the face of radical Islam and its terror proxies, open the country up economically, and usher in growth and prosperity for the benefit of all citizens.


As finance minister, I will pursue a broad free-market policy. This includes removing the government price controls and import restrictions that have limited competition and kept consumer prices high, as well as regulatory reforms and a loosening of bureaucratic control over small businesses. Inspired by U.S. right-to-work laws, we will pursue similar measures to reduce union control in Israel’s labor force.


On matters of religion and state, the new government will never seek to impose anything on a citizen that goes against his or her beliefs. We wish only to increase the freedom of religious people to participate in the public sphere in accordance with their faith, without coercion on secular people. For example, arranging for a minuscule number of sex-separated beaches, as we propose, scarcely limits the choices of the majority of Israelis who prefer mixed beaches. It simply offers an option to others. We also will work to guarantee that religious believers aren’t punished by the government for standing by their beliefs. This is no different from the rights the U.S. Supreme Court recently affirmed in its Masterpiece Cakeshop decision. Contrary to some American reporting, we seek to protect all citizens from coercion that would violate their conscience—nothing more.


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My critics also mischaracterize the reforms I’ve proposed in my secondary role as a minister in the Defense Ministry with responsibility for certain civil issues in Judea and Samaria. Whatever one’s opinion on ending the Israeli-Arab conflict, the current situation in these regions, in which a feckless military government lacks the civil-service orientation required for governing civil life, is unsustainable. The army needs to deal with security and leave governing to a civil system capable of providing efficient service and protecting individual rights.


Our reforms are aimed at developing the area’s infrastructure, employment and economy for the benefit of all. This doesn’t entail changing the political or legal status of the area. If the Palestinian Authority decides to dedicate some of its time and energy to its citizens’ welfare rather than demonizing Jews and funding the murder of Israelis, it would find me a full partner in that endeavor.


Additionally, we seek to halt the execution of the Fayyad plan, a massive European Union-funded project to facilitate the Palestinian takeover of Area C, the one part of Judea and Samaria where Jews are currently permitted to live under the Oslo Accords. The authority is building housing, infrastructure and more in areas that are outside its jurisdiction to surround Jewish communities and other strategic locations in Area C in an attempt at de facto annexation. The EU contends its funding is purely humanitarian, but recent reporting has revealed this is not the case. This unrestrained usurpation poses mortal dangers to Israelis living there and risks significant damage to the natural environment and to historical sites. Among other measures, we will beef up enforcement of existing laws and agreements to stop this deliberate abuse.


Israel’s justice system also needs urgent reform to restore democratic balance, individual rights and public trust. In the U.S., elected politicians appoint federal judges, including Supreme Court justices, making the bench at least indirectly responsive to the people. In Israel, sitting Supreme Court justices have veto power over new appointments to the court.


Israel also lacks a written constitution, but in the 1990s the Supreme Court began striking down democratically enacted laws based on its own idea of what Israel’s constitution ought to be. This has created legal and economic uncertainty, precipitating a severe decline in the public’s trust in judicial and law-enforcement institutions. The Supreme Court ignores written law and, worse, invalidates government action even if it violates no law, but rather the court’s own notions of sound policy, or “reasonableness,” as it calls it. Moreover, the Israeli criminal-justice system also lacks basic procedural safeguards for defendants, such as the exclusionary rule, and there is no effective oversight on government prosecutors, who too often abuse their wide scope of authority.


Our emphasis on judicial reform is meant to bring Israel closer to the American political model with some limited checks to ensure the judicial system respects the law. We seek to appoint judges in Israel in a process similar to America’s; to define the attorney general’s scope of authority and relation to elected representatives in a manner similar to what’s set down in America; to develop effective oversight mechanisms for law enforcement to ensure they protect basic rights; and to restore the Knesset’s authority to define the fundamental values of the state and its emerging constitution.


All Americans should appreciate the wisdom and justice in these plans. They should shed their preconceptions and unite to support the resurgence of accountable government, prosperity, individual rights, and democracy in the Jewish homeland.


Mr. Smotrich is head of Israel’s Religious Zionist Party and the incoming finance minister.

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