Prominent rabbis from the religious Zionist movement on Sunday night called for Bezalel Smotrich, head of the far-right Religious Zionism party, to hold fast in his demand for the defense ministry portfolio, as coalition talks ramp up to form Israel’s next government.
Led by head Rabbi Haim Druckman, the rabbis distributed a joint statement after they had met with Smotrich, calling on him “to stand strong unequivocally and uncompromisingly for the defense ministry position so as to strengthen the security of the State of Israel, to strengthen the spirit of the IDF, to prevent the establishment of a Palestinian state and to oversee the settlements in Judea and Samaria.”
The rabbis also said that they “want the party to continue pushing for the education and religious services portfolios,” and clarified that “it is of the utmost importance that Religious Zionism lead the efforts for the Jewish identity of the state in the spirit of the Land of Israel.”
Rabbi Yaakov Ariel, the former chief rabbi of Ramat Gan, and seven other rabbis who head yeshivas around the country also participated in the meeting.
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In a meeting on Sunday, Shas leader Arye Dery and Smotrich again discussed their negotiations with Benjamin Netanyahu and Likud, with Dery insisting that he was determined to have the treasury for himself, to which Smotrich responded that if that is the case, he would insist on the defense portfolio.
Likud sources said Dery had reserved for himself the “right of first refusal” to choose what portfolio he wanted, so that if he insists on the Finance Ministry, he is expected to be awarded it.
President Isaac Herzog formally tasked Netanyahu Sunday with forming Israel’s next government. The move came after the president completed Friday consultations with the leaders of all parties that will be in the next session of the Knesset. Parties representing 64 of the 120 lawmakers of the next Knesset told Herzog they supported Netanyahu.