A heated debate took place on Monday afternoon, November 14, during a meeting of the Knesset Committee on the Status of Women and Gender Equality, after racist HaBayit HaYehudi (Jewish Home) lawmaker, Bezalel Smotrich spoke out against interreligious marriages and defended an Orthodox organization that had reportedly acted against mixed marriages between Jewish women and Muslim men. The committee chairwoman, MK Aida Touma-Sliman (Hadash), ordered security to remove Smotrich, claiming that he was inciting against Arabs.
The meeting focused on an ultra-Orthodox nonprofit organization, Hemla (Hebrew for “compassion”), that runs a state-funded home in Jerusalem for religious women with personal and family problems. A 2011 report by Haaretz claimed that Hemla was in fact an ideologically motivated group, with one of its stated goals being to “help girls from broken homes who are in danger of forced conversion,” and that most of the women in its hostel had been “rescued” from relationships with Arabs. The report also asserted that the association was closely affiliated with Lehava, a radical far-right organization that opposes intermarriage and seeks to stifle public activity by Arabs in Israel. According to the report, Lehava’s head, Bentzi Gopstein, also served as public relations director for Hemla.
MK Touma-Sliman contended that it was hard to understand why Hemla was being funded by the Ministry of Social Affairs and Social Services, as its activity appeared to be ideology-based rather than welfare-oriented. She quoted a publication by the organization published almost 15 years ago that claimed it was safeguarding women “before they reach the [Arab] village and have a baby named Ahmed.”
During the committee session, Smotrich used his time to speak in defense of Hemla, claiming that as long as the organization was “helping people in need,” there was no reason to examine the views of its managers. Smotrich was immediately kicked out of the meeting by Touma-Sliman. Smotrich, she said, had used his very first appearance at the Committee on the Status of Women to “continue his incitement against Arabs, rather than dealing with the question of whether the Ministry of Social Affairs was properly supervising an organization that operates a care home for teenage women and announces that its goal is to ‘rescue them from the danger of forced conversion.'” Following his ejection from the meeting Smotrich said that “MK Touma-Suleiman decided to promote her Communist Party agenda to make the State of Israel ‘the state of all its people… [Her] exploiting the committee to promote her political agenda is inappropriate,” he said.