A Disastrous and Dangerous Government That Will Pay Anything to Survive

Uri Maklev
MK Rabbi Uri Maklev (Olivier Fitoussi/Flash90)

MK Rabbi Uri Maklev is a weathered contender. He is a quiet and very hardworking and devoted MK, whose office and staff are well-known — as he is — for their work on any and every petition they receive.

Being in the opposition doesn’t make things easier, either. The bureaucracy and red tape facing any Israeli, especially the chareidi public, have become much worse under the new “change” government, as they brand themselves. Rabbi Maklev has his hands full and tries his best to help each and every individual to the best of his ability.

He is fed up with the new government and its merry ways, and in this expose interview with Hamodia, Rabbi Maklev gives us a little insight on the government, on his view of its policies (spoiler: zero), and the possible ways it will fall.

And in the spirit of the tefillos we have all davened in these days, he concludes with the tefillah: Ki saavir memsheles zadon min haaretz — For You shall remove the evil leadership from the earth!

Let’s start from the beginning. This government has been functioning now for three months, whether we like it or not and whether we are in the coalition or not. What’s your take on these few months?

First of all, I’d like to make one slight — actually a major — correction to your question. The government has not been functioning. Simple as that. It has lasted three months, survived time and again by the scruff of the neck, but to call that functioning? Far from it.

And that, in effect, also answers the second half of the question. There is nothing in this government, no real substance, no “glue” holding it together, besides finally ousting Binyamin Netanyahu and keeping him and his partners out of power — which they have been successful in. And that’s about it.

That wasn’t an easy feat, to finally get rid of Netanyahu, after 12 years in power and the numerous attempts.

True, and they have achieved it, to the detriment of the nation. We, the chareidi parties, went along with Netanyahu in recent years and were also on the receiving end of the ongoing media bashing. That is, mind you, about one of the only topics that [everyone] is in full agreement across this bizarre coalition — against the chareidim and against the mesorah.

Those laws and decrees pass with no issues.

Uri Maklev
MK Rabbi Uri Maklev shakes hands with Harav Baruch Mordechai Ezrachi during an election campaign tour in Beit Shemesh last March. (Yaakov Lederman/Flash90)

You call this government a bad one, yet they have passed a budget, which will finally set the country back on track.

In a word, the proposed budget disaster is in the making.

One look at the desperate coalition members’ budget makes it clear that they will throw money at anyone who asks, all in order to survive.

This is a government that will do anything to survive. The budget funds are unprecedented, leaving nothing much to fight the coronavirus pandemic, adapt the education system to current morbidity levels, or deal with collapsing government-owned hospitals across the country.

This has been their policy across the board, and when it comes to the state budget it is highlighted once again.

The new Finance Minister, who put the chareidim in the forefront of his ugly campaign, is perhaps the nastiest of them all. He, who dodges the Corona Cabinet meetings, and doesn’t delve into the details of the proposed budget, fell for all the populistic moves and changes the Finance Ministry clerks wanted.

Throughout the years, all any Finance Ministry worker ever wanted was a submissive finance minister, one who is led by populism and adopts every plan, no matter how crazy, as long as the numbers are effortlessly punched in. After the wasteful spending of so many funds on the Arab sector and all the other parties, this budget will raise taxes, both directly and indirectly, left and right. Pensions are in, soldiers are out. Tending to the coronavirus? It doesn’t exist. Not in the health budget, nor in education. Businesses are closing and reducing their activity, yet this budget makes no mention of compensation.

In fact, there’s no framework at all. Outside of politicians, all Israelis should daven that this budget fails to make it through the three votes in the Knesset.

Yet the Knesset appears set to pass the budget.

A government has never fallen in Israel over the actual passing of a budget, and it seems to be the same with this government, unfortunately. This is a government that is willing to pay, and how. They will pay the coalition, Arab MKs in the opposition, and anyone else who will enable their survival. All one can do is pray that passing the budget proves less harmful than failing to pass it.

Liberman is like the neighborhood bully; everyone is scared to open their mouths in his presence. Last week, when he presented the budget in the Knesset, he spoke to a nearly empty room. That shows how much the fellow members of the coalition agree with what he has to say.

Uri Maklev
United Torah Judaism MKs Rabbi Moshe Gafni (R) and Rabbi Uri Maklev. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

And we haven’t even touched on the Arrangements Law.

Weighty laws, large reforms, including on very controversial issues, relegated to nothing more than a line in a thick book, to be voted on by coalition MKs with the mere wave of a hand without any discussion and absent any understanding of the repercussions. Nor will any of this be presented in its full context because, after all, what does the Religious Ministry’s kashrus reform have to do with a line in the Arrangements Law? Doesn’t such a law demand in-depth discussion? Not for this government, which has one thing only — money — on its mind.

You mentioned the kashrus “reform.” Can you elaborate on the problems with this reform?

It’s a total upheaval of the kashrus system that the country has had for decades, leaving the authorization in the hands of those who have no clue about kashrus.

In simple terms, not every family doctor — as good as they may be — can take on a heart surgery job. That isn’t to say that they aren’t qualified, but each person or professional has, and should know, their limits. Not so, says Religious Affairs Minister Matan Kahana. Anyone who has a certificate to serve as a city Rabbi will be allowed to certify kashrus, as per his reform and so-called upgrade to the kashrus system.

“Why not open the system to competition?” they claim. We say that this is a disaster in the making. Opening up the system to anyone who has passed a test in the Rabbinate and has served as a city Rabbi is the recipe for trouble. Those who rely on the kashrus of the Chief Rabbinate will not want to eat food made in a restaurant that is open on Shabbos. “What does shemiras Shabbos have to do with the kashrus of the food?” they ask. Everything, we say.

It is the same mentality with his giyur reform. Not every Rabbi can be allowed to deal with the intricate details of giyur. This will bring down the reliability of the giyur system in Israel and may force us, the chareidi community, to start our own independent conversion and family records — sifrei yuchsin.

And above all, none of his reforms have received any backing from the Chief Rabbinate. Back to the example of the doctors mentioned earlier. Imagine if the Health Minister came up with a grandiose plan for reforming all the public hospitals in the country, and the Doctors Association came out against the plan. No matter how he would try to market it, it wouldn’t take off, but when it comes to Yiddishkeit, unfortunately, everything goes.

Prime Minister Naftali Bennett oversees the government and thus far hasn’t gotten into too much trouble. Do you see this government lasting the full term?

Bennett may not have gotten into much trouble, because he does what he is best at: avoiding the issues. He doesn’t really know how to run a government, especially a messy government like the one he has, with eight parties and just 61 MKs, making every party and every MK a mechutan that needs to get all they demand. He can’t go too far to the right, because then the left wing elements will be upset, and he can’t go too far to the left, leaving the right wing upset. So he just avoids it all.

Overall, Bennett is simply a charlatan, a liar. He is a fake. He got to this position through lying, by breaking every single election promise and everything that he and his party stand for, and he hasn’t even bothered to apologize. When we were kids, we all knew of the one kid in the class that was the “class liar,” who couldn’t be trusted on a single word or story he would tell in recess or during class. That is Bennett.

Every sentence he said as an opposition MK ,he now says the opposite, without even blushing.

Nu, that’s the old claim, that things that one sees from the opposition aren’t the same as what they see from the coalition.

No, this is far worse. He wrote, or plagiarized, a booklet about how to fight the coronavirus. There is nothing in his book that he has implemented. So in order to try to save face, he calls it the delta outbreak — hence it’s no longer the coronavirus that he wrote about.

But it’s much deeper than that. Nothing stood in his way to become the Prime Minister of the State of Israel, and to remain in that coveted post. All the votes that he received for a certain party platform have been dispensed of, all in order to get to Balfour Street.

There were times when Bennett worked hand-in-hand with the chareidi representatives.

In 2013, when he first made it into the Knesset, he joined forces with Yair Lapid’s party to get into the government. That anti-chareidi government didn’t last long, and in the next elections, Bennett promised us he wouldn’t go back to that mistake, tagging along with Lapid again. Well, you can add that promise to the aforementioned list. Has he had the decency to apologize to us for that lie? It doesn’t even occur to him that he lied and deceived the public.

And to your question if I think the government will last the full term, I certainly hope it doesn’t. But al pi derech hateva, as bad and lopsided a coalition as it may be, there isn’t much to be done to pull it down. We will be there to speak out against the government and we aren’t going anywhere in a hurry, but it won’t be easy. Then again, who thought that the government back in 2013 would fall in just a year and a half? And that was a much more stable government than this one.

So what can bring the government down?

There are enough inner struggles there, power struggles that if they would come to the surface would bring the government down.

Do you really think that Lapid will allow Bennett to be so successful in his two years as Prime Minister and then take the reins from him? Will Bennett really give over the power then, and become a simple minister? Will Gantz really sit quietly on the side when everything is being taken control of over his head? And will the budget really pass?

There’s enough there but still I say that their loathing of Netanyahu and his partners will keep them together. And then again, there’s enough money to buy them all off — except when it comes to the chareidi families. For them, there is no available funding.

You’re referring to the cuts set out by Liberman to the childcare subsidies?

Yes. And don’t think that with this reform he is finished yet; far from it.

The reform of the system means that the monthly 1,000-shekel childcare payments for families will be scrapped unless both parents have jobs.

The change will end the subsidies for around 18,000 households with fathers who learn in kollel.

Liberman’s plan is inhuman, antisocial and anti-economic.

This won’t bring a single avreich out of kollel to join the workforce. It will only bring the exact opposite and will end up punishing families.

The bottom line is that Liberman is pushing women who are working very hard and who are doing a very good job. He is telling them that if they need to go to work, they will need to put all of their income in the kindergarten and therefore it is better for them to stay at home.

But what does Liberman care for the good of the country? All he needs is a good headline and positive coverage in the press, and if he gets it with this, so be it.

Heading into the winter session of the Knesset, will we still see the ongoing filibusters from the opposition, and lack of cooperation with the coalition?

We were successful in the summer session with our filibusters, and as per the guidance of Gedolei Yisrael, shlita, we did not cooperate with the coalition.

What will happen in the winter session is yet to be seen. The Likud does want to continue with the tactics they have used thus far, and keep on fighting.

But for us, the chareidi community, we also need to know our limitations and when to raise a fight. For them, even for the Likud voters, they will have their schools fully covered and have nothing to worry about — for us, it’s a fight for every shekel in the budget, and we need to join forces.

Uri Maklev
MK Rabbi Uri Maklev speaking at a rally of Degel HaTorah in Beitar Illit in 2018. (Aharon Krohn/Flash90)

In the winter session, the new Draft Law is set to come to the fore. What will be the vote on that?

We haven’t seen the full text of the new law, and as such it is hard to comment on it. What has been publicized is that the age of deferment will be brought down to 21 for the first two years. Is that a good move or a bad move? We don’t know what other lines in the law they are covering up with this.

Generally speaking, I don’t think one can be choshed that this government is trying to help lomdei Torah, so there must be other catches in the law; for example, that the numbers that must be drafted every year from the chareidi public will be part of the law, and therefore not subject to any further discussion or the discretion of the IDF and/or Defense Minister — as we had wanted — and will automatically fall if the target numbers aren’t reached.

But we will fight to allow anyone and everyone who wants to be able to learn Torah, to devote himself to Torah, to be able to do so.

All in all, we have no expectations of this government for the betterment of Yiddishkeit, for the lomdei Torah, for the chareidi families, or even for the lower-class families in the Israeli society — and in the spirit of these days we daven that “Ki saavir memsheles zadon min ha’aretz — For You shall remove the evil leadership from the earth!”

We will be there for the public, for those who sent us and for those who need our assistance, be it in the opposition or the coalition.

Wishing you and your partners in UTJ continued hatzlachah!