Ultra-Orthodox MKs express frustration with Netanyahu

“If Netanyahu tries to dissolve the Knesset we will oppose it, there is no reason to take the country into another round of ridiculous and unnecessary elections” UTJ MK Uri Maklev said.

Shas leader Arye Deri (right) and UTJ leader Ya'acov Litzman (far left) attend a meeting in Jerusalem. (photo credit: REUTERS)
Shas leader Arye Deri (right) and UTJ leader Ya'acov Litzman (far left) attend a meeting in Jerusalem.
(photo credit: REUTERS)
United Torah Judaism MK Uri Maklev has issued a sharp and rare criticism of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, implicitly accusing him of a conflict of interest in his management of the coronavirus crisis and saying UTJ would not back new elections.
His strong criticism of the prime minister is surprising, coming from the haredi (ultra-Orthodox) party, which is extremely loyal to Netanyahu, a loyalty that has underwritten his grasp on power for the last decade.
Speaking on Friday to the Yated Ne’eman newspaper, a UTJ mouthpiece, Maklev discussed the recent unrest in the coalition and the possibility of new elections due to a fight over the budget.
“If Netanyahu tries to dissolve the Knesset, we will oppose it,” he said. “There is no reason to take the country into another round of ridiculous and unnecessary elections.”
Maklev also accused Netanyahu of seeking to “stick a wedge between us and Blue and White,” saying this was “regrettable” since it could “work against him like a boomerang,” an apparent threat about a possible change of political allegiances.
Because of Netanyahu’s “personal concerns,” it was hard to see what else is happening, he said, adding that the prime minister “doesn’t have a lot of people around him who can tell him the truth.”
In reference to the financial grants Netanyahu has advanced, which has been criticized as not socially equitable and inefficient, Maklev said: “It’s possible he thinks that if he enacts this or that economic plan to benefit the public, they will forget everything and support him again.”
Shas chairman and Interior Minister Arye Deri also expressed concern over the possibility of new elections. Last Thursday, he said the coalition was “at the brink of the abyss,” adding that “the country cannot allow political paralysis in the midst of a severe public health and societal crisis. It’s unthinkable,” his party’s mouthpiece, HaDerech, reported.
Following the incident two weeks ago, when Netanyahu suddenly gave the green light to Likud MKs to vote in favor of an commission of enquiry in conflicts of interests in the judiciary, something that Blue and White saw as an incendiary provocation, Deri reportedly had an angry phone call with Netanyahu and demanded that the prime minister “say explicitly if you want elections,” after which he hung up the phone.
Senior UTJ MK Moshe Gafni has also become less than enamored with Netanyahu, resenting the prime minister’s insistence that the Finance Committee, which Gafni chairs, approve a tax break for his expenses.
Gafni is also upset that Netanyahu’s plan for financial grants that was approved on Sunday by the cabinet does not allocate funds for more than three children per family, a policy that means a three-child family will get the same grant as a family with many more children, which are prevalent in the haredi community.
Both Shas and UTJ are upset with Netanyahu for engaging in brinkmanship over a one- or two-year budget with Blue and White, since failure to pass a budget on time will create severe problems in allocating money for stipends to yeshiva students.
There are also further grievances among the haredi political leadership. UTJ chairman and Housing Minister Ya’acov Litzman voted against the new coronavirus cabinet on Sunday because he was excluded from it.
Litzman spoke out against the current government policy of restricting the number of worshipers in a synagogue to 10 when wearing masks, while hotel dining rooms can seat 35% of their capacity when people are eating without masks on.
Although the political desertion of Shas and UTJ from their alliance with, and loyalty to, Netanyahu still looks unlikely, the increased murmurs of discontent from their direction are an indication that they may have their limits.