UTJ MK: We will cancel harmful anti-haredi 'decrees' of previous gov't

Consultations with Herzog continue for the second day * Ram Ben Barak challenges Lapid for Yesh Atid leadership, then backs down.

MK Yitzhak Goldknopf of the United Torah Judaism Party arrives for a meeting with Israeli president Isaac Herzog at the President's residence in Jerusalem on November 10, 2022, as Herzog began consulting political leaders to decide who to task with trying to form a new government.  (photo credit: YONATAN SINDEL/FLASH 90)
MK Yitzhak Goldknopf of the United Torah Judaism Party arrives for a meeting with Israeli president Isaac Herzog at the President's residence in Jerusalem on November 10, 2022, as Herzog began consulting political leaders to decide who to task with trying to form a new government.
(photo credit: YONATAN SINDEL/FLASH 90)

United Torah Judaism (UTJ), Religious Zionist Party (RZP) and Otzma Yehudit recommended on Thursday to President Isaac Herzog that Likud leader MK Benjamin Netanyahu receive the mandate to form the next government, as he continued his consultations with representatives of all of the parties that made it into the Knesset. 

With the addition of the Likud and Shas' recommendations on Wednesday, Netanyahu now has 63 recommendations – and will receive the mandate to form the government on Sunday.

First to visit the president on Thursday was UTJ, represented by MKs Yizhak Goldknopf, Uri Maklev, Meir Porush and Yakov Asher. The party recommended Netanyahu as the next prime minister.

Asher said to Herzog that the main message from this election was that a large majority of the Jewish population in Israel wanted public spaces to be respective of Judaism and of the Sabbath. UTJ will demand the regulation of the haredi public's rights in the upcoming budget, including receiving the funding it deserves by law for education, which it currently is not receiving, Asher claimed.

Goldknopf said that the party would demand to cancel all of the "decrees" of the previous government that harmed the haredi public, including a reform that awarded haredi citizens more freedom in choosing "kosher" cellphones, and the kashrut reform meant to increase competition and lower prices.

 Members of the Religious Zionist party speaks to the press after a meeting with Israeli president Isaac Herzog at the President's residence in Jerusalem on November 10, 2022, as Herzog began consulting political leaders to decide who to task with trying to form a new government. (credit: YONATAN SINDEL/FLASH90) Members of the Religious Zionist party speaks to the press after a meeting with Israeli president Isaac Herzog at the President's residence in Jerusalem on November 10, 2022, as Herzog began consulting political leaders to decide who to task with trying to form a new government. (credit: YONATAN SINDEL/FLASH90)

Maklev pledged that the party would not just care for haredi citizens but for all of Israel's citizens.

Porush claimed that there were people who were trying to harm the "sacredness" of the Western Wall, presumably referring to attempts by reform and conservative Jews to hold mixed-gender prayers at a separate section of the wall.

Next to hold talks with Herzog was the Religious Zionist Party, represented by MK Orit Struk and incoming MKs Ohad Tal and Moshe Solomon. The party also recommended Netanyahu for prime minister, as was expected.

Regarding the Override Clause which RZP leader MK Bezalel Smotrich championed in his election campaign, Struk said that a ruling this week regarding a rapist who entered a plea deal showed that the justice system was not functioning well enough.

Struk stressed that despite the consultations at the president's residence being largely ceremonial, it was a miracle that just two generations ago this would have been a pipe dream for many Jews.

She declined to receive questions but said regarding the Override Clause that "there will be a government and it will fulfill its promises to its voters."

Yisrael Beytenu says it's pointless to recommend Yair Lapid as prime minister

Yisrael Beytenu came next, represented by Agriculture Minister Oded Forer and MK Evgeny Sova

Forer expressed his reservation about the "grandfather clause," which enables people with one Jewish grandparent to receive Israeli citizenship despite not being Jewish according to Halacha (Jewish law), and which the haredi parties and RZP want to cancel. The Law of Return should not be touched, Forer said, adding that there were 5,500 soldiers in the IDF who were not Jewish according to Jewish Law but were deeply connected to the country.

Forer said that the party would "embitter" the "bad" coalition that was going to form, which was going to favor people who don’t work over those who work, pay taxes and serve in the IDF reserves.

Sova added that Yisrael Beytenu will act responsibly in the opposition. He accused the previous opposition of opposing laws that were beneficial for the country simply because they were proposed by the coalition.

The party respects Lapid but decided that it was pointless to recommend Lapid as prime minister when it was clear to all that this was not a real possibility, Sova added.

Ben-Gvir says he isn't a racist, recommends Netanyahu as prime minister

Otzma Yehudit leader MK Itamar Ben-Gvir came next, accompanied by MK Almog Cohen and Limor Sivan Har-Melech. Ben-Gvir's visit came a day after Herzog was overheard saying to Shas' representatives that "the whole world was afraid" of Ben-Gvir changing the status quo at the Temple Mount, and hours after Ben-Gvir announced that later on Thursday, he would attend the memorial of outlawed former MK Rabbi Meir Kahane, head of the racist Kach movement.

The party recommended Netanyahu as prime minister.

Herzog expressed his concern about Otzma Yehudit's attitude towards Israel's Arabs.

Ben-Gvir responded that he was not racist and his opinion was that terrorists should be dealt with a hard hand and should not be given good conditions in jail. Ben-Gvir added though that he would not blink or hesitate to implement the policy they promised during their campaign, including immunity for IDF soldiers and police officers.

Herzog raised the issue of the Temple Mount. Ben-Gvir claimed that there should there be no racism on Temple Mount, and therefore Jews should not be prevented from visiting the site just because they were Jewish.

Noam's Avi Maoz says he has no problem with any specific group of people in Israel

MK Avi Maoz then met the president, representing the anti-LGBT Noam party. Maoz requested to meet the president separately despite him running in the election within RZP (number 11).

Maoz also recommended Netanyahu, giving the Likud leader 64 recommendations.

Herzog stressed that "every person was born in the image of God" and that Maoz should respect all citizens, including the LGBT community. Maoz said that he had no problem with any specific persons.

Ram Ben Barak challenges Yair Lapid

Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee chair and Yesh Atid MK Ram Ben Barak announced on Thursday on KAN Radio that he would challenge Yesh Atid party leader and outgoing prime minister Yair Lapid for the party leadership.

"I think that my chances are not high," he admitted, admitting that "over the past year and a half Lapid proved leadership and an ability to navigate [the country] in very sensitive security situations," Ben Barak said.

However, Ben Barak clarified his statements in a Facebook post soon after.

 Yesh Atid MK Ram Ben Barak, head of the Knesset Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee  (credit: DANNY SHEMTOV/KNESSET SPOKESPERSON'S OFFICE) Yesh Atid MK Ram Ben Barak, head of the Knesset Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee (credit: DANNY SHEMTOV/KNESSET SPOKESPERSON'S OFFICE)

"I believe, and always believed in Prime Minister Yair Lapid (thanks to him I joined politics) and all I want is for him to be the next prime minister," Ben Barak said. "Currently, all I want is for him to lead the opposition against what is appearing to be critical damage to Israeli democracy and I will continue to support him," Ben Barak wrote.

No one challenged Lapid for the party leadership ahead of the previous election. The only person to challenge him since the party's founding was former MK Ofer Shelach, but he did not remain in the party.

Ben Barak added in the interview that he thought that Religious Zionist Party leader MK Bezalel Smotrich was not fit to serve as Defense Minister, as Smotrich "believed in building a third temple and in the Redemption."

Earlier on Thursday, outgoing prime minister and soon-to-be leader of the opposition Yair Lapid called for unity among his bloc in the opposition, saying that it is the only way to prevent the destruction of Israeli democracy.

"If we want to stop this crazy and destructive rampage, we need to work together," the Yesh Atid leader wrote in a statement shared on his social media pages. "If we want to protect Israeli democracy and prevent religious coercion and the exclusion of women, we need to work together. If we want to return to power - we must work together," Lapid wrote.

Lapid's comments came after Labor leader Merav Michaeli accused him of being responsible for the bloc's loss in the election, and Yisrael Beytenu and National Unity refused to recommend him to the president to be the next prime minister.

The public statement was Lapid's first to the leaders of the parties in his bloc since the election last Tuesday.

Ra'am recommends no one, vows to engage in Israeli democracy

The final party to visit the president on Thursday was Ra'am, represented by party leader MK Mansour Abbas, MK Iman Khatib-Yasin and incoming MK Yasser Hujirat.

Abbas said that the party would not recommend anyone since it was clear who the winner was, despite the actual vote being close. He said that the party would look forwards and that despite the fact that it would not be in the coalition, Ra'am would continue to engage in Israel's democratic process.

Khatib-Yasin expressed her concern over crime in the Arab sector and said that the outgoing government was on the right track and that this needed to continue. She stressed that Ra'am supported integration and that the programs on behalf of the Arab sector needed to continue.

Hujirat expressed his concern from the extreme-right, especially over the status quo regarding the al-Aqsa Mosque.