Photo Credit: Yonatan Sindel/Flash90
Those were the days: Education Minister Naftali Bennett with his then-faction partner MK Bezalel Smotrich during a Knesset plenum session, November 13, 2017.

On Tuesday, in an interview on Reshet Bet Radio, Religious Zionism Chairman Bezalel Smotrich lost it. After complimenting MK Idit Silman––whom he had described not long ago as a “small woman who should be scorned”––for quitting her post as PM Naftali Bennet’s Coalition Chairwoman, Smotrich erupted:

“Whoever is a partner in this government should not be allowed in shul. It’s the most legitimate thing in the world, someone who lied and deceived and stole votes, who sold the country to the Islamic Movement and is now going to do the same with the supporters of terrorism on the Joint Arab List, is definitely not worthy. People who turned their backs on the public should feel unworthy of the public.”

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On Wednesday, Bennett responded during a speech: “It’s awfully nice to say ‘We love everyone – but we won’t sit with them,’ ‘We love everyone but he won’t enter my synagogue’ – What is this thing? A Jew should boycott another Jew in the synagogue, as a certain politician calls for doing? For this, our previous state was destroyed 2,000 years ago.”

There’s no doubt that Smotrich had gotten under Bennett’s skin, which is why earlier this week the PM repeated in three simultaneous television interviews: “Religious Zionism is some guy who barely served in the army, despite his peak physical profile (97), but gives advice all day long to the IDF, what to do? Is this Religious Zionism? Three people there barely served or didn’t serve in the army at all, are they the example? [Yamina minister and fighter pilot] Matan Kahana is Religious Zionism. I’m a religious Zionist, who served in [special force] Sayeret Matkal.”

The fact is that while the vast majority of religious Zionists in Israel enlist in combat units as part of their Hesder yeshiva arrangement, or serve the full three years, Smotrich studied in Mrkas HaRav and the Kdumim yeshivas, then studied law, got married, had three children, and then, at age 28, enlisted and served 16 months in the operations division of the IDF general staff. His partner, Itamar Ben Gvir, was banned from enlisting because of his association with the late Rabbi Meir Kahane’s movement.

No one on the right has voted for or against Smotrich or Ben Gvir based on their military record. But Bennett was clearly so mad at his rival that he made those insulting comments, and bragged about his own military service like some testosterone-driven teenager. But in a hyper-militaristic society like Israel, the insult stuck, and Smotrich, in the interview, instead of ignoring it and moving on, said he pitied Bennett for having to resort to this kind of under-the-belt attacks, meanwhile coming across as defensive when he retorted:

“He’s lying at the same rate he’s breathing. My military record never bothered him all the years that we worked together. I don’t recall him studying medicine or even completing a first aid course to write his ridiculous book on fighting the Corona. I was never a truck driver or a bus driver and yet I was a pretty good transport minister.”

Yes, he was: his 2+ traffic lanes continue to help ease traffic congestion on Israel’s main highways every morning and afternoon during rush hour. Good idea.

Another past Smotrich close ally, Interior Minister Ayelet Shaked, posted on her Facebook page that until his call to ban Yamina politicians from shul, she hadn’t understood the backstory for the Talmudic tale of Kamtza and Bar Kamtza that took place on the eve of the destruction of the Second Temple:

“As a non-religious woman, I attend the synagogue I went to as a child with my father, on holidays and other occasions. I always felt welcomed there, that every Jew has his place to come and pray there. Bezalel, who apparently forgot the warning of our sages, that anyone who whitens his friend’s face with shame in public it is as if he shed blood (the face becomes white as a result of humiliation when the blood is drained from it – DI). He thinks the congregants should expel me from the synagogue. … Bezalel will not make me give up the synagogue and this holiday, too, with God’s help, I will come to pray.”

Well, maybe the Third State of Judaea will not be destroyed over these street fights, but the legacy of the NRP with its 12 MKs, inherited by both Smotrich and Bennett – we can kiss that one goodbye.

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David writes news at JewishPress.com.