Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has axed Education Minister Naftali Bennett and Justice Minister Ayelet Shaked from the government following the demise of his coalition.
New elections are set to take place on September 17.
Likud’s Yariv Levin reportedly turned down the Justice post as it was only temporary, while right-wing Party leaders Rafi Peretz and Betzalel Smotrich want to be considered as replacements.
The attorney general has confirmed temporary appointments could take place without Knesset approval. But Netanyahu was clear on social media that Israel would not become a “Halachic state” after Smotrich reportedly commented that the justice system must abide to Halacha.
“It is my intention that the State of Israel is ultimately run according to the Torah,” Smotrich told Israel Radio, adding “Our country will return to the way it was in the days of David Hamelech and Shlomo Hamelech, run by the laws of the Torah.”
Smotrich explained further his comments after criticism from a number of politicians.
“There is no coercion and nothing is happening at a moment’s notice,” he noted. “There remains a great deal of flexibility.”
Smotrich concluded, “We must do what we can to give a chizuk to the Chief Rabbinate’s batei din”.
“There are endless Torah doctrines that provide room for democracy and the way of life determined through it. It’s not as scary as they paint it. We just need to learn.”
Regarding the justice ministry post, he added, “I am ready to take the mission with great joy. It is clear to me that I am not going to make far-reaching changes, it will be in the next term.”
Former minister Avigdor Lieberman has been vocal over numerous issues and views secular rights as a campaign strategy.
Lieberman noted that a “Halachic state” was not imaginary but a significant threat.
“Listen to what Smotrich, a candidate for the justice minister post, has said,” he noted. “This is no longer just a comment of a delusional hilltop boy, but a statement of intent, he wants a Halachic state.”
Labour MK Shelly Yachimovich said Smotrich’s comments were a wake-up call for the country.
“His shocking words should be a warning in the face of the conservative wave washing over us,” she said.
“According to the prospective ministers of justice and education, Israel should become a country in which men are able to divorce their wives for dressing immodestly, slavery and stoning to death are practised, homosexuality is banned and only men are allowed to own property.
“The fact that Smotrich and his cohorts are not hallucinating from the sidelines, and are in fact assuming important and influential roles, poses a tremendous danger to the future of humanity and the age of enlightenment.”
There is intense debate over the influence of the ultra-orthodox community in Israel.
Draft exemptions date to Israel’s independence in 1948 when the government allowed a few hundred students to pursue religious studies. Exemptions have grown exponentially with ultra-orthodox leaders insisting young men serve the nation through prayer and study.
But resentment abounds in some quarters that ultra-orthodox youngsters study Torah ahead of secular subjects while adult men get welfare payments whilst studying throughout their lives.
Tel Aviv University economist Dan Ben-David is president of the Shoresh Institution for Socioeconomic Research conducting research trends.
“Giving one’s life for one’s country is the ultimate sacrifice,” he reportedly noted.
“It is unconscionable that there are free-riders in Israel who treat the rest of us as lower caste mercenaries to ensure their livelihood. They ostensibly prefer not to enter modern society, but have no compunction about claiming its fruits, from modern health care through modern infrastructure to the extensive subsidisation of their lifestyle.”
The military has not provided updated figures on recruits but it is believed to be in the thousands.
The ultra-Orthodox is the fastest growing community in Israel with economists warning it could become taxing on Israel’s economy.
Some 7% of the country’s adults are ultra-orthodox, but great-grandchildren will reach 50% of Israeli children in two generations according to Ben-David.
Meantime, US President Donald Trump has called on Israel to “get their act together” after Netanyahu’s failed bid form a new governing coalition.
“The political situation in Israel is “all messed up,” Trump said, and the U.S. is “not happy about that.”
Aside from the elections, Trump was hopeful his long-awaited Middle East peace plan would occur despite reported comments by Secretary of State Mike Pompeo to Jewish leaders at a meeting in New York.
“We’re doing our best to help the Middle East to get a peace plan,” Trump told reporters. “I understand why (Pompeo) said that. Most people would say it can’t be done. I think it can be done.”
But uncertainty over Israel’s elections could delay the plan.
White House adviser Jared Kushner noted in an interview that Palestinians deserved “self-determination,” but would not commit to Palestinian ‘statehood’.
“I do think they should have self-determination, I’m going to leave the details until we come out with the actual plan,” he commented.
Kushner added Palestinians needed a fair judicial system, freedom of press, freedom of expression and tolerance for all religions before it became “investable”.
By Adam Moses