‘We Need to Be Treated as Equals’ – MK Rabbi Uri Maklev

By Yossi Golds

Rabbi Maklev attends a discussion about the murder of Yehuda and Tamar Kaduri, during a Public Security Committee meeting at the Knesset, the Israeli Parliament in Jerusalem on May 16, 2022. (Photo by Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

MK Rabbi Uri Maklev is no newcomer to politics or to public life. After serving on the Yerushalayim Council, he has been in the Knesset for nearly 15 years. He has served in a number of positions, and is known by many in the community as an address for all problems and issues.

We spoke with him earlier this week in his current capacity as a member of the coalition negotiations team of the United Torah Judaism party; negotiations that to some seem to have been taking a tad too long.

Rabbi Maklev disagrees, but says, “This week is the crucial week for the negotiations. We will see this week if the Likud is serious or not. We hope to receive positive answers, and that all the coalition partners will move ahead and finally form a working coalition.”

We spoke with Rabbi Maklev on Sunday afternoon, ahead of yet another meeting with the Likud negotiation team, scheduled for the evening.

Do you feel that the negotiations are taking too long? We’re nearly three weeks after the elections, and not one coalition agreement has been signed.

This isn’t the first time I have been part of the coalition negotiation team for UTJ and, from my experience, I can say that the expectation to swear in a new government last week was a little overdoing things. We hope that this week we’ll finally have a government.

This week?

B’ezras Hashem. This week is a crucial week, in which we shall see whether the negotiations are moving forward or [are] stagnant, [which would show] that things are going backward, which is certainly not what we want to happen.

Do you blame the Likud for the shlepping in the dealing?

I’m not placing the blame on anyone; we’re not playing a blame game, ultimately. But yes, the Likud could’ve speeded things up a little. If we’d all sit down for negotiations, representatives from all parties, for three days straight, we’d come out with a coalition. But as of now, the talks are taking time. We ask questions and then the Likud needs to come back with answers.

In a nutshell, the talks aren’t intensive, and it’s a pity.

Do you think Binyamin Netanyahu will need to ask for an extension beyond the 28-day time frame given to him?

We certainly hope it doesn’t take that long, and it will be a shame if we get to that stage.

We thought the Likud would be better prepared for the talks, and they weren’t — at least until now. Our thoughts were that their campaign, and same for all the right-wing parties, was so loud and clear that we wouldn’t need to have so many meetings and discussions.

But it seems that it’s not happening that way; and that is unfortunate.

In these coalition-talks meetings, do you feel that the Likud is treating you as equal partners or do you still need to knock down the door to receive what’s fair?

I’d say that it’s somewhere in between. After all, it was a joint win; all the right-wing parties — led by the Likud, I’m not taking anything away from them being the largest party — were in this together. We stuck together for the last three years and, as such, we thought we’d receive what we deserve without having to come as shnorrers.

I would define these talks as something in between — better than in the past, yes, but still not the way one should treat proper partners.

Rabbii Maklev arrives to coalition talks at the Likud headquarters in Tel Aviv on November 13, 2022. (Photo by Avshalom Sassoni/Flash90)

Is there any truth to the feelings and reports that Netanyahu is behind the slowing down of the coalition talks, perhaps due to pressure from the American administration, or that he himself has backed down from the need of the Override Clause? Does any of this come across in the coalition talks you’ve had with the Likud?

Look, there are always those analysts who are out for a good spin in their political columns, always coming up with the most unconventional ideas, and many times they’re wrong. But on the odd chance that their spin pulls off, they can always come back and say they reported it first.

I can’t tell you what goes on in the Likud headquarters for the simple reason that I don’t know. Simple as that.

What I do say, and demand, is that the Likud and the other coalition parties come through with what they promised during the election campaigns. That is something that should go without saying. The public demands — and rightfully so — that election promises be fulfilled. Now, if you’d say that the election results weren’t exactly in your favor, you can then excuse not coming up with the goods. But these elections gave a clear and decisive win and there’s no reason to backtrack on any pledges.

That is actually our disagreement with the Likud over why the previous government fell, and how to ensure that this coming government doesn’t fall into the same trap.

And what is that?

The Likud claims that the government fell due to pressure from the press, external pressure on the government. That might explain their worry over negative press.

On the other hand, we say that the government fell simply because their own public wasn’t behind them — which was clearly shown with the results of the elections. Those who thought they were voting for the right-wing received left-wing, and in the recent elections they came back to the right-wing. That is what we say, that if we — and the Likud — won’t come up with as [many] of our election promises as possible, we have simply wronged our voters. And that will cost us, and them, in the long run.

We hope to begin a long and stable term, and that this government will live out its full term.

I am not ignoring the doomsday cries by a minority of people, against the apparent coalition, but we will not act, and we will not do, differently than what we have promised. And anyone who thinks that the solution is to leave Israel — apparently Eretz Yisrael is not really important to them.

As said, the previous government did not last its full term, since it did not do what it promised to the voters in all areas; for example, the Finance Minister promised economic well-being, and we received a higher cost of living.

The Transportation Minister acted in an organized fashion against the chareidi cities; only two cities out of all the towns ranked in the socioeconomic table are not included in the reform, because they are chareidi cities.

We, unlike them, will act with integrity; we will do exactly as we promised the voters.

Rabbi Maklev attends the Dirshu Siyum Hashas in Jerusalem, on February 10, 2022. (Photo by Arie Leib Abrams/Flash90)

So you can understand the hesitation of Betzalel Smotrich, who wants a clear appointment as Defense Minister, and seemingly doesn’t trust Netanyahu?

I’m not the spokesman for Smotrich, so I won’t answer in his place, but yes, we in UTJ demand clear answers.

I look at coalition discussions as building a puzzle. First, you build the outside pieces, those that are easier to find because they have straight edges and are easier to find, and then you move on to the middle, inner pieces.

The coalition discussions are on two fronts: the essence of the new government, the basic outline of the coalition, and then there are the positions: the ministries and Knesset committees. The positions is the easier part, and actually, even there, we still don’t have clear answers. We hope to receive answers on all fronts this week.

What is your opinion on the demands of Smotrich?

Again, I’d rather not go into that, but let’s hope that both sides realize what is really at stake here and don’t waste time on positions — important as they might be.

It would be a pity to spoil this win over such petty issues as these.

Is that prevalent of all parties?

Let’s put things into perspective. Smotrich now has seven seats, after Otzma Yehudit of Itamar Ben-Gvir and Noam split off from his joint party. UTJ also has seven seats. Based on that, UTJ should receive no less than what Smotrich receives.

Let’s hope to maximize our coalition talks for the better of the chareidi community, and for the betterment of all of Israel in general, after a difficult year and a half under the outgoing government.

We ask from both the Likud and the Religious Zionist Party to lower the flames and try to work things out.

On which things do you say we’ll be like the previous government, and not care about backlash, and on which things would you say it’s better to keep them quiet?

As noted earlier, we aren’t out to poke out anyone’s eyes; we’re far from that. What we do want and demand is our rights.

For example, the law on bringing in chametz into public hospitals on Pesach is a demand that I’d say the vast majority of the country agrees on, and it’s something that is well understood. That’s something that we can go public with.

On the topic of the raise in the stipends for the avreichim, I think that the publication of that in the press was not to our advantage, and that’s putting it mildly. Not that we need to be embarrassed that our prize avreichim will be receiving another few hundred shekel — not all that much — but the way it was presented in the press didn’t help much at this crucial stage of negotiations.

Ultimately, anything can be understood by the others, with good hasbarah.

Which position do you see yourself receiving in the new coalition?

We’re not at that stage yet. The Likud has given a number of offers and once we see that we’re moving forward with the core issues, we’ll move on to the positions. I hope to be able to continue to help any and every petitioner with whatever job I receive.

You’re referring to the Override Clause? Will UTJ continue to demand it, even if the Likud wavers from the need to legislate it?

I personally don’t think the Likud will waver from this demand. Perhaps they want it to come across as our demand, or of other parties, but ultimately, all coalition parties need it, each for their own reasons.

We need it, obviously, for the Draft Law and the Chametz Law, among others. It is simply incomprehensible that the High Court — as significant as the Justices may be — can simply override any law they feel like. They have long overstepped their position, which should simply be to see to the upkeep of the laws ruled by the democratically elected legislature, known as the Knesset. Not the other way.

There are legal issues with changing the Basic Laws in Israel, and that is still in our coalition dealings.

Thank you Rabbi Maklev. Wishing you much hatzlachah.

And may we be able to finally move forward, for the sake of all of Klal Yisrael, with the formation of a strong and stable government, b’siyatta diShmaya.

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