Far-right party would compel female TV hosts to cover hair, Yesh Atid MK claims

Yesh Atid MK Ram Ben Barak predicted on Monday that the Religious Zionism Party would require female TV presenters to cover their hair, in comments the far-right faction called “incitement”.

In an interview with Radio Tzafon, Ben Barak said the Religious Zionism Party was “dangerous and anti-democratic”.

“Soon, women TV presenters will wear hats and women will not be able to serve in the army – that’s our goal,” he said.

The leader of the religious Zionist party, Bezalel Smotrich, called on Yesh Atid’s leader, Prime Minister Yair Lapid, to condemn Ben Barak’s remarks, which he described as “incitement”.

“Ben Barak discredited the religious Zionist public and the women of the media and television who proudly wear headscarves,” Smotrich said, referring to the orthodox, non-Haredi community.

The far-right Religious Zionism party of Smotrich and Itamar Ben Gvir is set to become the third largest faction in the Knesset with about 13 seats after the Nov. 1 election, according to polls that are often unreliable.

MK Itamar Ben Gvir and MK Bezalel Smotrich of Religious Zionism-Otzma Yehudit have registered their party for the forthcoming elections in the Knesset on September 14, 2022. (Aria Leib Abrams/Flash90)

Ben Barak defended his comments by tweeting that he “respects any way people choose to live their lives” and that he wanted to say on the radio that in a government led by Smotrich and Ben Gvir, religion ” is enforced”.

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Ben Barak said, “Attempts to use this or any statement for electoral purposes are underhanded.”

Intelligence Minister Elazar Stern told Army Radio on Tuesday that he supports his colleague Yesh Atid and said the Religious Zionism party violates the rights of women and the LGBTQ community.

“I understand his statement — he gave it as an example of an excess of religious coercion,” Stern told Army Radio.

Knesset member Elazar Stern. (Hadas Parush/Flash90)

“As someone who lives as a Religious Zionist, I say with great regret that the Religious Zionism Party has a strong position against women serving in the IDF – why are we blind to it? And it’s clear that they will harm the rights of the gay community,” said Stern, who was himself criticized for comments he made last year that he ignored complaints of sexual harassment during his time as head of the IDF’s Human Resources Directorate.

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On several occasions over the years, Smotrich has advocated an Israel governed by religious law.

He has said that the Israeli judicial system should abide by Jewish religious law and asserted that the country should strive to lead itself “in the days of King David.”

Zionism religious leader Bezalel Smotrich arrives at a polling station in Jerusalem on August 23, 2022 to cast his ballot in the far-right party’s primary election. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

Smotrich has also claimed in the past that mixed-gender units impair the army’s operational capability.

Women serve in a variety of roles in the IDF, in many cases alongside male colleagues. In some high-profile cases, however, women have been barred from attending ceremonies on religious grounds, over objections by some participants, and have been subjected to other forms of discrimination.

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Smotrich has also made anti-LGBTQ remarks in the past, boasting of being a “proud homophobe”.

He said he has “a problem with LGBT culture,” compared gay marriage to incest, and apparently blamed Tel Aviv’s Pride march for a coronavirus outbreak.

Smotrich, who has served in the Knesset since 2015, rose to national prominence nearly a decade earlier when he organized a “beast parade” in protest of the Pride parade.

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