UTJ power struggle intensifies as new MK's swearing-in approaches

Chairman Litzman warns he may withhold support for Porush in J'lem elections.

uri maklev 88 (photo credit: )
uri maklev 88
(photo credit: )
United Torah Judaism is set to swear in a new MK, Uri Maklev, at a special summer session next week during the Knesset's recess. Both his arrival and the proximity of the Jerusalem municipal elections have placed the party, which usually conducts its business in closed meetings, under the spotlight. And the rotation agreement bringing Maklev into the Knesset to replace MK Ya'acov Cohen, who resigned his seat on July 31, has brought some bad blood to the surface. Maklev, 51, who comes from UTJ's Degel Hatorah faction, has been deputy mayor of Jerusalem since 1993. He is entering the Knesset as part of an agreement between the Lithuanian Degel Hatorah and the hassidic Agudat Yisrael - the two factions that make up UTJ - that was intended to maintain a balance of power between the two, which are often at odds. Cohen comes from the Aguda faction. However, Maklev's arrival actually threatens to throw off another balance in the party - between those who are committed to UTJ chairman Ya'acov Litzman, who comes from Aguda, and those who are not. Cohen was both a productive MK and a Litzman loyalist. The non-loyalist group is led mainly by MK Meir Porush, another Aguda man, who is currently fighting for the UTJ candidacy in the Jerusalem mayoral race against current Mayor Uri Lupolianski, Litzman's favored candidate. Sources within the UTJ said on Tuesday that after Porush supported candidates elected against the UTJ's will in the haredi towns of Betar Illit and Elad, Litzman decided that "Porush is no longer worthy of becoming a candidate for mayor." Since Porush had chosen to act independently during those elections, the sources said, Litzman believes Porush should now be "independent when trying for mayor," and should not receive Aguda's support. Porush's bid for the mayoralty is based on his demand for the implementation of another rotation agreement, signed five years ago during the previous municipal campaign, which stated that the candidate in the 2008 Jerusalem race would be decided by the Jerusalem Aguda management, a forum in which Porush is believed to have the advantage. Litzman, the sources said Tuesday, is now trying to wipe out Porush's majority by contacting management members of different hassidic sects and convincing them to vote for Lupolianski. Litzman's Ger sect has also implied that if Porush does receive the mayoral nomination, it might deny him a much-needed letter of support that would bring thousands of Gerer voters to the ballots. However, because of the shift in power within UTJ's Knesset ranks, as well as the very low odds of a haredi rabbi denying a haredi candidate a letter of recommendation, party sources believe Porush's battle for the nomination will likely succeed when the votes are counted at the internal Aguda elections next week, right after Tisha Be'av. Of course, Porush would still need to win the mayoralty elections in November, but that might turn out to be a more straightforward fight. As a Porush aide said Tuesday, "the hard part appears to be behind us."