Controversial Knesset Member (MK) Bezalel Smotrich has claimed that incumbent Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu will help far-right candidate Itamar Ben-Gvir reach the Knesset after the upcoming general election, despite the Supreme Court this week blocking Ben-Gvir from moving up his party’s slate.
Smotrich’s comments were made during a closed meeting of activists belonging to the Union of Right Wing Parties (URWP), an alliance of Jewish Home, National Union and Jewish Power (Otzma Yehudit). The alliance was formed in February as part of a Netanyahu-orchestrated deal, under which Jewish Home would be handed two cabinet posts in return for joining forces with Otzma Yehudit to contest the upcoming general election on 9 April.
Under the agreement, Otzma Yehudit’s two candidates – Michael Ben Ari and Itamar Ben-Gvir – took fifth and eighth place respectively on the URWP’s election slate. For his part, Smotrich took the number two slot, with Jewish Home head Rafi Peretz heading the URWP list.
The deal proved controversial given Otzma Yehudit’s ideological links with extremist rabbi Meir Kahane, whose Kach party was banned from politics in the 1980s for racism and incitement and whose ideology inspired the 1994 Ibrahimi Mosque massacre. As a result of these links, Israel’s Supreme Court in March banned Ben Ari from running on 9 April on the grounds of racism.
Following the ban, Ben-Gvir was automatically moved up to seventh place on the URWP slate but, given that the URWP is currently only polling at around five seats, Ben-Gvir had requested that he be allowed to take Ben Ari’s original fifth position. The Supreme Court ruled against Ben-Gvir’s petition, meaning he may not be granted a Knesset seat after 9 April.
However, an audio of the URWP activists’ meeting was yesterday leaked to Israel’s Channel 12, in which Smotrich can be heard saying that Netanyahu would work to ensure Otzma Yehudit were still part of the ruling coalition.
Smotrich said: “In our agreement with Netanyahu [we obtained assurances] that there will be a double Norwegian law,” referring to a law which allows any MK appointed to a cabinet post to resign temporarily from the Knesset, allowing the next-in-line person on their party’s list to enter parliament.
Therefore, as Smotrich explained to the activists: “Even if, in the worst case, [URWP] only gets five seats, Itamar [Ben-Gvir] will still get in. With God’s help we’ll be in the coalition, two MKs on our list will resign to take on positions [in the cabinet] and he’ll get in.”
Smotrich’s comments will be seen as further evidence of the right-wing’s attempts to circumvent the power of the Israeli judiciary. Though Netanyahu and the URWP’s manoeuvring is not illegal, using the “Norwegian Law” to this end effectively ignores the Supreme Court’s decision not to allow Ben-Gvir to be elevated on the URWP slate following his colleague’s ban.
Ben-Gvir in particular has vowed to curtail the judiciary’s power if he wins a Knesset seat. Under the original Netanyahu deal, Ben-Gvir will be given a seat on the Judicial Appointments Committee, the body which appoints Israel’s judges, leading commentators to believe he will try to stack the judiciary in favour of the right-wing.
Smotrich has also vowed to assist in this project, saying in an interview yesterday that the URWP would demand the education and justice portfolios as a condition for joining the ruling coalition. Smotrich also demanded that the so-called “Override Clause” be passed as another condition for his supporting the government. The clause is an amendment proposed by Smotrich to Israel’s “Basic Law: Human Dignity and Liberty” which, as Arutz Sheva explains, would allow the Knesset to re-enact laws rejected by the Supreme Court, subject to the approval of a Knesset majority of 61 out of the 120 MKs.
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Smotrich said in the interview: “We will not enter the government without the enactment of the Override Clause within 60 days of the establishment of the government. The High Court adopts an ideological political position, and we want to change that. The Override Clause is only one of the tools we are working on.”
Whether Netanyahu will agree to Smotrich’s demands is, as yet, unclear. However, given that his Likud party is currently polling at around 29 seats, Netanyahu will need the URWP and other right-wing parties like the New Right (Hayemin Hehadash) to garner the 61 seats needed to form a majority government.