Meet the MK: Ya’acov Asher

The UTJ MK and former Bnei Brak mayor aims to improve the relationship between local and national government.

Yaakov Asher 370 (photo credit: Courtesy Bnei Brak Development Fund)
Yaakov Asher 370
(photo credit: Courtesy Bnei Brak Development Fund)
Ya’acov Asher served for 20 years on Bnei Brak’s City Council, filling various roles in different administrations. He was elected Bnei Brak’s 13th mayor in 2008, a position he held until his election to the 19th Knesset.
Name: Ya’acov Asher Party: Degel Hatorah, a constituent faction of United Torah Judaism Age: 48 Hometown: Born and raised in Ramat Gan, currently a resident of Bnei Brak Family status: Married with seven children and two grandchildren
Profession before becoming MK: Mayor of Bnei Brak for four years, and served in other Bnei Brak municipal administrations before that
Why did you decide to enter politics?
Rabbi [Aharon Leib] Shteinman, [the spiritual leader of the Ashkenazi, non-hassidic haredi (ultra-Orthodox) world], was the person who decided that I would be going into front-line national politics.
Two days before the Council of Torah Sages convened to finalize Degel Hatorah’s electoral list, an emissary of Rabbi Shteinman came to me and informed me that I was under consideration to be the third candidate on Degel’s list [and thus seventh on the united UTJ list].
These decisions are not made by us, but by the leading rabbis. We believe that success in such matters only comes through the support of the Torah sages and to those who listen to their instructions.
This is why I was able to be successful as mayor of Bnei Brak.
What are the first three bills you plan to propose?
I don’t think I’m prepared to seriously answer that question in a detailed manner at the moment. What I can say is that given my experience with municipal affairs, there is a need to improve and even restructure in many ways the relationship between local government and national government.
For example, the welfare and education budgets are granted to local authorities on a 75:25 ratio fund-matching basis. However, some municipalities are wealthier than others simply [because of] their location, such as Tel Aviv, which is by the sea, or other areas with significant tourist attractions. Cities such as Dimona, without such advantages, or like Bnei Brak, which does not have a large income from businesses, should be funded from the central budget to a greater extent than more affluent jurisdictions. I will try and propose legislation to deal with these kinds of issues.
What was the most interesting experience on the campaign trail?
During the campaign, not one national poll gave UTJ more than six Knesset seats.
We had absolutely no expectation that we would get seven mandates, and I did not think for one moment that I would be leaving my post as mayor of Bnei Brak.
At 1:30 a.m. [following the elections], all of a sudden the exit polls had UTJ going from six to seven seats, and this was the greatest shock and best experience of the campaign.
On the one hand I was somewhat sad that I would be stepping down as mayor, but on the other hand it gives me a chance to effect change at the root, and to have a positive impact on a national level, God willing to help bring together the different sectors of society. Even one effective piece of legislation can have a great and constructive impact on people’s lives.
Do you think haredim and Arabs should do military or national service, and if so, how should the state enforce it?
The world of Torah is critical for Jewish people, and without it and without Torah study there, the Jewish people would not exist. In former times [when the temples in Jerusalem stood], the tribe of Levi fulfilled this function of addressing the Jewish people’s spiritual needs. It’s hard to explain to people who don’t live as we do, but we’re not trying to escape from anything.
Dedication to Torah is a responsibility and a holy mission.
Nothing should be changed in a coercive or forceful manner.
This will cause a terrible division in the Jewish people.
Anyone who wishes to learn [full-time in yeshiva] and who is fulfilling his obligations and indeed learning must be allowed to continue studying.
I don’t know what the manpower requirements of the IDF are, but our position is that anyone who is not actually learning should enlist in one of the appropriate tracks for haredim in the IDF or in the civilian service, which is an effective program.Do you support a religious- Zionist candidate, such as Rabbi David Stav, for the Chief Rabbinate?
In general, the decision on such matters is made by the leading rabbis. But the current Ashkenazi Chief Rabbi Yona Metzger has been rabbi for all, and both the national-religious and haredi sectors have been able to relate to him during his time in office.
What do you think can be cut in the budget, which must be passed within 45 days of the government’s swearing in?
Again, I haven’t had the opportunity to look at these issues in depth, so I can’t comment on specifics. But I took charge of Bnei Brak when it had a budget deficit of over 30 percent, and I took it down to a 0.5% deficit, and from experience I can say that what’s important to do is to implement the cuts gradually, and also to find the right mix of cuts alongside revenue increases. Often when cuts are made, they can affect the more vulnerable sectors of society, so these cuts need to be done with care.What is your position on talks with the Palestinian Authority and a possible Palestinian state?
This is another issue for which the stance of UTJ is decided on by our rabbis.
Additionally, the party deliberately does not take the lead on diplomatic concerns. We want peace, clearly, and we don’t want any more wars, and we need to make every effort for peace. But ultimately these decisions and the definitions and details of the issues will be made by our rabbis.