Behind the Headlines'No one imagined how horrible this government would be'

WATCH: Meet the Labor MK opposing her own party to try to salvage its future

In online ToI interview, maverick lawmaker Merav Michaeli discusses her stand against joining the government, her plans to overhaul the chief rabbinate, and a future Labor makeover

Though she technically sits in his unity government, Labor Party lawmaker Merav Michaeli is proud to be a thorn in the side of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu — and she recently said as much to The Times of Israel’s chief analyst, Haviv Rettig Gur, in the new Behind the Headlines online video series.

“I’m honored to be considered one of the problems in this horrible coalition and government,” she said, referring to her role in helping legislation that would ban gay conversion therapy pass a preliminary vote last month — something which exposed deep rifts among the secular and ultra-Orthodox members of the coalition. “Especially,” she added, “when it comes in the form of such important legislation that wants to ban what should never have been allowed to begin with.”

Just days ago the troubled government, unable to pass a budget, looked like it was headed towards dissolution and a painful fourth round of elections in just a year and a half, with speculation that Netanyahu was spurring the collapse so as not to fulfill his side of a power-sharing agreement with Defense Minister and interim prime minister Benny Gantz.

But as of Thursday, Netanyahu appears to have pulled the country back from the brink of disaster – at least temporarily – with the unexpected announcement of a historic Israeli peace agreement, and establishment of full diplomatic relations, with the United Arab Emirates.

Michaeli appeared on Behind the Headlines two days before US President Donald Trump announced the Israel-UAE peace treaty, but it’s safe to say that it likely didn’t brighten her view of the unity government headed by Netanyahu’s Likud Party and Gantz’s Blue and White.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu at his office in Jerusalem on a phone call with UAE leader Mohammed Bin Zayed, on August 13, 2020. (Kobi Gideon/PMO)

“I don’t think anyone could have imagined how horrible and damaging this government would be,” she told Rettig Gur in her August 11 interview. “I was against it; I fought against Labor entering this government and I strongly believed it would be bad. But I don’t think anyone could anticipate how dysfunctional not only the government would be, but how dysfunctional it would turn Israel.”

In addition to supporting peace with the Palestinians via a two-state solution (a position that seems increasingly radical compared to her current government partners), Michaeli is a secular feminist who managed to win a seat last month on the state committee that appoints Israel’s rabbinic court judges, a position she intends to use to appoint more “humane” rabbinic jurists.

She also went viral last month for berating Finance Minister Israel Katz and Knesset Finance Committee chair MK Moshe Gafni over a proposed tax cut to wealthy Israelis as the middle and lower classes continued to struggle in the midst of the ongoing coronavirus pandemic. The video of her tirade taken from the Knesset floor was viewed by a whopping 1.5 million Israelis.

Knesset Member Merav Michaeli (Hadas Parush/Flash90)

Not surprisingly, Michaeli is quick to take the gloves off in her interview, and her jabs are more personal than partisan.

“[This government’s] problems stem from Netanyahu,” she told Rettig Gur. “His only motivation is his personal interest. Right now passing a budget for the next year — maybe you can argue whether or not it’s the right thing, but it’s the thing he signed in the agreement with Blue and White, and he refuses to do it.”

This creates horrible chaos, Michaeli said, since the economy was already in crisis due to lack of a proper budget over more than a year of elections. She also took Netanyahu to task for Israel’s dismal response to the second coronavirus outbreak.

In the beginning, Netanyahu desperately needed a government, so it was in his interest to portray the situation as extremely dire… But then when he got his emergency coronavirus government, he just said go, have fun, knock yourself out

“In the beginning, Netanyahu desperately needed a government, so it was in his interest to portray the situation as extremely dire, and really inflict very severe limitations and very strong instructions, and also really frighten the Israeli public. And people were obedient and cooperative,” she said. “But then when he got his ‘emergency coronavirus government,’ he just said ‘Go, have fun, knock yourself out.’ It was like, it’s over, we won, go for it. Yes, because he personally won, he already had a government, he was done, and so everything fell apart.”

Tune in to Behind the Headlines to see Michaeli’s full evisceration of the prime minister; her plans to overhaul the Chief Rabbinate; and details of just how she plans to achieve her goals without leaving the Labor Party she calls home, but which is at its lowest point since the establishment of Israel.

Check out previous Behind the Headlines interviews:

Offering a balanced and comprehensive look at some of today’s issues, the Behind the Headlines series will see Times of Israel reporters and editors interviewing influential individuals from a wide spectrum of fields. It is first available exclusively for Times of Israel Community members.

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