"I am a proud homophobe." So declared Bezalel Smotrich, a controversial figure who has become a major player in the Israeli political landscape.
A key figure in the coalition, the leader of the Religious Zionist Party lacks neither ambition nor nerve. And he does not intend to remain in the shadow of incoming Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, as heated negotiations in recent weeks over his future portfolios have proven.
Intelligent, efficient, and demanding, Smotrich is considered the best transportation minister Israel has ever had. But today, his radical ideas on security and social issues worry much of Israeli society.
Smotrich was born in Haspin, a religious settlement in the Golan Heights in northern Israel, but grew up in the Beit El settlement in the West Bank. His father was an Orthodox rabbi and he received a religious education. During his brief service in Israel’s army, he served as secretary in the Operations Division of the General Staff.
He earned a Bachelor’s degree in law from Israel’s Ono Academic College and began a Master's degree in civil and international law at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, though he did not complete his studies.
An Orthodox Jew, Smotrich lives outside the West Bank settlement of Kedumim with his wife, Revital, and their seven children.
A fervent defender of the Jewish state, Smotrich was arrested in 2005 during protests against the disengagement plan – the dismantling of Israeli settlements in the Gaza Strip and the evacuation of Israeli settlers and the army from inside the Palestinian enclave – and was imprisoned for three weeks without being charged. In 2006, he helped organize the "Beast Parade" as part of protests against the gay pride parade in Jerusalem, although he later expressed regret over the incident.
He is also the co-founder of Regavim NGO, which monitors and pursues legal action against construction undertaken by Palestinians, Bedouins, and other Arabs in Israel and the West Bank without Israeli-issued permits.
‘Imposing Jewish sovereignty’
Smotrich is said to have played a key role in Israeli legislation to legalize the annexation of the West Bank, and a law banning advocates for the Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions Movement from visiting Israel. He lobbies for Jewish religious laws – Halacha – to become a source of law.
In June 2019, Smotrich campaigned for the Justice Ministry, saying that he sought the portfolio to "restore the Torah justice system,” prompting then-prime minister Netanyahu to publicly distance himself from him and appoint Amir Ohana, who is openly gay, to the post.
Seven years after entering parliament, Smotrich is set to become one of the leading ministers in the most right-wing government Israel has ever seen.
Reprinted with permission from i24NEWS