With the imminent opening of election booths, the Shas Party’s political and
spiritual leadership issued their final campaign messages on Monday, along with
a general call to get out the vote for Tuesday’s election.
leader Arye Deri returned to the two major themes of the party’s election
campaign, protesting socioeconomic divides in the country and the preservation
of the status quo with regards to matters of religion and state.
gaps in Israeli society are growing every year and it hurts me to hear and see
these serious differences between those who have and those who don’t,” Deri said
on Monday. “I came back to politics for the weak sectors of society, a sector
which is growing and that has to chose between buying bread and buying medicine,
between heating their homes and a buying a bus pass.”
The Shas co-leader
said that the creation of a better social safety net was required to ameliorate
these problems, although he noted that the budget deficit must also not be
One solution Deri proposed is to lower VAT on basic items and
to fund that reduction by increasing taxes on luxury goods.
“The time has
come for the rich to pay more and the poor to pay less,” he
Shas has come under fire during the campaign from former party
MK Haim Amsalem, who was expelled from Shas for publicly opposing the party’s
stance on discrimination against Sephardi school girls in haredi schools and its
position on conversion.
Speaking to The Jerusalem Post
last week, Amsalem
dismissed Deri’s advocacy
for Israel’s poor and in particular for Sephardim as
insincere, saying that he had done nothing for the poor Sephardi community in 30
“What has he done so that there shouldn’t be unemployed
Sephardim?” Amsalem asked. “Nothing. He continues to talk about it and will talk
about it in the next elections too.
“But he hasn’t allowed Sephardim to
study. They need to study the core curriculum in order to be able to integrate
into the work force, but how can they study when they’re sent to yeshiva to
study only Torah?” he said.
Bayit Yehudi leader Naftali Bennett said on
Facebook that he hoped the current election would be the last one to include
“ethnic overtones,” alluding to the frequent references made by Deri and Shas to
what they argue are discernible economic disparities between the Sephardi and
“I also hope [this is the case],” retorted Deri
sardonically. “Very much.”
In a surprising step, Shas spiritual leader
Rabbi Ovadia Yosef called on Ashkenazi voters to cast their ballots for the
Sephardi party. Yosef said that many Ashkenazim had received subsidized housing
because of the efforts of Housing and Construction Minister and Shas MK Ariel
Attias, and that they should show their gratitude by voting Shas.
polls have shown that Shas is struggling to improve on its haul of 11 Knesset
seats in the 2009 election.
Both Shas and the Ashkenazi haredi United
Torah Judaism party are concerned with their failure to increase their share of
the vote despite the haredi population’s rapid rate of growth.
took the opportunity to fiercely denounce haredi preacher Rabbi Amnon Yitzhak
for running his Koah Lehashpia Party in competition with Shas for religious
Shas is concerned that votes cast for Koah Lehashpia
will cause it to loose a Knesset seat.
“Amnon Yitzhak is stealing votes
from us, I am greatly pained by his evil deeds,” Yosef said, pointedly omitting
Yitzhak’s title as a rabbi. “He does not fear Heaven, everything he does is for
his own honor.
“Anyone who votes for him I will not forgive, not in this
world and not in olam haba [the world to come],” the rabbi threatened. “Because
our strength is in the Torah and Shas will protect the Torah.”
As well as
socioeconomic issues, Deri also mentioned Shas’s other main campaign platform
over the weekend, slamming Bayit Yehudi’s Ayelet Shaked for saying that her
party would institute civil marriage for couples in which one partner was Jewish
and the other not, as well as her comments that the party seeks to take control
of and reform the conversion process.
Shaked later clarified that she had
meant that she supported civil marriage for two non-Jews.
made on his Facebook page, Deri said that he “apologized” for a controversial ad
campaign on conversion, broadcast by the party, “not for the message or the use
of national stereotypes,” but instead for not directing the ad against Bayit
Yehudi as well as the original target Yisrael Beytenu.
Shaked will harm Jewish identity. If this is the ‘Jewish home’ they’re offering,
I suggest they move house,” Deri jibed.
The ad disparaged the conversion
system and proposals to reform and expedite the conversion process, with a tall,
blonde woman with a heavy Russian accent receiving a conversion certificate by
fax after dialling “1-800 conversion” while standing under a wedding canopy with
Deri said that the use of stereotypes had not meant to
offend anyone, and had “no racist motivation, God forbid,” but was a way, “often
employed in satire” of emphasizing the party’s message that it would combat “the
immoral phenomenon of fictitious conversions.”
political parties and interest groups view as problematic the intermarriage of
Israeli Jews and the some 330,000 Israelis from the former Soviet Union who are
of Jewish descent, but not defined as Jewish according to Jewish
Such groups see reform of the conversion process, especially for
those of Jewish descent, as a vital tool in combating further
The idea is anathema to the haredi political parties
however, who insist that converts commit entirely to fully and strictly
observing all aspects of Jewish law before being accepted.
party’s hard-line policy on the issue, Yosef is known to hold a more lenient
approach to conversion.
Separately, the Central Election Committee levied
a NIS 36,000 fine on Shas for distributing campaign leaflets in which Yosef says
that anyone voting for Shas will be blessed.
Such practices are illegal
and the committee has previously warned Shas not to engage in this kind of