'My voters don't care that I'm homophobic', says Israeli finance minister

In a leaked recording, Bezalel Smotrich said he could take measures against the LBGTQ+ community because his voters 'don't give a damn about the gays'


Israel's new finance minister said he was confident that he could take steps against the LGBT+ community in Israel without any blowback from his voter base because they "don't give a damn" about "the gays".

In a leaked recording published by Israel's Kan public broadcaster, Bezalel Smotrich said that his voters know about his long-held homophobic views, but they care more about him preventing Arab parties from entering government.

“I may be a far-right person, a homophobe, racist, fascist, but my word is my bond,” Mr Smotrich is quoted as saying.

Mr Smotrich is the head of the far-right Religious Zionism party, and is a key figure in the new government led by Benjamin Netanyahu.

The recording, obtained by the Kan public broadcaster, is reportedly of Smotrich speaking with a businessman who supports him. It was not stated where the conversation took place, and nor whether it took place before or after November's election.

Mr Smotrich reportedly said: "A Sephardic, traditional person, you think they care about gays? They don’t give a damn. They tell me ‘I don’t have a problem with them,’ [but] do you think they care about me being against them?”

When he was explicitly asked what measures he may take against the LGBT+ community, Smotrich said that his party's supporters, which includes the head of the merchants union in Jerusalem’s popular Machane Yehuda Market, are much more concerned with his positions and polices on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

Underscoring his anti-Arab stance, he also said that they supported his refusal to join a coalition in June 2021 that relied on the Islamist Ra’am party, which resulted in Smotrich and now prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu being left to languish in opposition as a centrist coalition led by Naftali Bennett and Yair Lapid took power.

“Listen, [the voter] knows I’m [against LGBTQs]. It doesn’t matter to them. I’m the only one who didn’t go with Ra’am and safeguard the Land of Israel for their grandchildren. They will have my back," he said.

He then appears to state the limits of how far he would be willing to go in applying biblical mandates: “I won’t stone gays [to death] and you won’t force me to eat shrimp.”

The recording has emerged as the far-right government is preparing to implement one of Smotrich's demands of changing Israel's anti-discrimination laws in a way that would allow private companies to refuse service to certain groups, such as members of the LGBT+ community.

A clause in the coalition agreement with Mr Netanyahu says that the law will be changed “in a way that will prevent harm to a private business that refrains from providing service or a product due to religious faith, on condition that it is a service or product that is not unique and for which an alternative can be found nearby and for a similar price.”

Leader of the opposition and former prime minister, Yair Lapid, slammed the comments and said it shows how Mr Netanyahu's government has been captured by far-right extremists: "The Smotrich tapes remind us time and time again how weak Netanyahu is and how dangerous it is that he is held captive by racist extremists.

"This is not a question of right and left, it is not a question of Likud or Yesh Atid. It turned into a bigger question: love or hatred of humanity."

The CEO of LGBTQ Association 'The Aguda', Ran Shalhabi, also released a statement condemning Smotrich, saying: "Smotrich's obsessive preoccupation with the gay community finally reveals the truth for his voters: he is not only a homophobe but also a racist. This is not just wild incitement against the gay community, but also against the Mizrahi and traditional public who accuse him of homophobia."

This is not the only controversy facing the government: over 80,000 people protested in Tel Aviv on Sunday against the Netanyahu government's plans to drastically change the role of the Supreme Court in the Israeli political system. Under the proposed changes, the court would be unable to strike down legislation passed in the Knesset, which critics say would be an unprecedented alteration to the balance of power in Israel.

However, before the government was formed, Mr Netanyahu said that the new government’s inclusion of homophobic far-right figures will not mean that Israel transitions away from being “a country of laws".

Speaking on Bari Weiss’s “Common Sense” podcast, Mr Netanahu said: “The main policy or the overriding policy of the government is determined by the Likud party and frankly, by me. I think I have more than a modest influence on it,

“This Israel is not going to be governed by Talmudic law,” Mr Netanyahu added.

“We’re not going to ban LGBT forums. As you know, my view on that is sharply different, to put it mildly. We’re going to remain a country of laws.”

Share via

Want more from the JC?

To continue reading, we just need a few details...

Want more from
the JC?

To continue reading, we just
need a few details...

Get the best news and views from across the Jewish world Get subscriber-only offers from our partners Subscribe to get access to our e-paper and archive