JERUSALEM (JTA) — Right-wing politician Bezalel Smotrich, responding to criticism of reports that he again had called for Israel to be governed by Jewish law, said his words were distorted to fuel anti-religious feelings.
“We would all like the state to act according to the Torah and halacha,” Smotrich told a conference of rabbis in Jerusalem on Monday.
He acknowledged this was unlikely to occur anytime soon because “there are other people who think differently and we need to get along with them.”
Smotrich, currently the transportation minister, heads the Tkuma party, which has been part of the Jewish Home since 2015 and is serving in Knesset as part of the Union of Right-Wing Parties. He is running for Knesset as part of the United Right.
Smotrich also said that as transportation minister, he would work to prevent construction, infrastructure and maintenance work on Shabbat, which has been controversial in the past.
In a statement Tuesday, he responded to criticism.
“I spoke to a room full of people from all walks of Jewish religious life and said we would all like to live in a country governed by the Torah and the Halacha. That is the religious will of any observant Jew,” he said. “But in the same breath, I agreed that we all understand we cannot, nor do we want to force our beliefs on others and that since we share our country with people who think differently, we must find solutions that are considerate of the public as a whole.”
The United Right in a statement called the reporting of his comments a “media lynching” of Smotrich.
“Minister Smotrich spoke last night at the conference about his personal belief, and simultaneously emphasized that he cannot and isn’t interested in forcing it on others,” the statement said.
Smotrich made similar comments in early June when he said that the Israeli justice system should be run according to religious Jewish law and said the country should go back to operating as it did in the days of King David and King Solomon.”
Avigdor Liberman, who heads the Yisrael Beiteinu party and has steadfastly refused to give in to the demands of the haredi, or ultra, Orthodox parties on issues including enlisting in the Israeli military, again slammed Smotrich for his comments.
“It’s unbelievable that yet again, without even blinking, Minister Smotrich declares that if it was up to him and his friends, they would annul the laws of the State of Israel and force a halachic state on us,” Liberman said in comments Monday night that he also posted on Facebook.
Smotrich has called himself a “proud homophobe” and called the Jerusalem Pride Parade an “abomination parade.” He was slammed in 2016 for saying that Arab and Jewish women should be put in separate rooms in the maternity wards of Israeli hospitals. He also called Reform Judaism a “fake religion.”