Shas officials adopted a unified theme on Sunday, arguing that Thursday’s
unification deal between Likud and Yisrael Beytenu would cause Likud’s
established voter base of traditional Sephardi Jews to abandon the party and
flock to Shas.
Party sources also dismissed out of hand reports that Shas
might unite with the Ashkenazi haredi party United Torah Judaism, with one
official labeling such speculation as “pure nonsense,” in conversation with The
The unexpected unity deal struck between Likud and
Yisrael Beytenu last week initially disoriented haredi politicos, but Shas, at
least, seems to have found its stride, with one party insider telling the Post
that “the party of [departing Likud Minister Moshe] Kahlon has become the party
of [Yisrael Beytenu MK Faina] Kirschenbaum.”
Shas party officials now
seem convinced that the alliance deal will mean the religiously traditional,
working class Sephardim – who have formed the backbone of Likud’s voter base
since the party’s inception – will defect to Shas out of concern over some of
the secularist policies of Yisrael Beytenu.
“Many voters who supported
Likud in the past will now see that the only way to preserve the Jewish
character of the state will be to support someone other than Likud- Beytenu, and
that will most likely be Shas,” said a party official.
several bills proposed by Yisrael Beytenu during the Knesset’s summer session
which he said run counter to the political and religious conscience of many
Sephardi voters, such as a bill for liberalization of the conversion system,
civil marriage and similar issues.
Speaking on Army Radio on Sunday,
Shas’s joint political leader and Construction and Housing Minister Ariel Attias
emphasized that only his party’s opposition to such bills had hindered their
progress into legislation, and that religiously traditional voters would
remember this come election day.
As such, the Likud-Beytenu unity deal
will be “a shot in the arm for Shas,” Attias argued.
In a statement, the
party also highlighted Shas’s social welfare credentials, saying that there
would be only one choice for those who want to protect both “the weakest sectors
of society” and the Jewish character of the state.
Attias repeated this
message, claiming that the party would be able to divert voters away from Likud
in provincial towns and cities in particular, in light of these recent
Shas is expected to focus heavily on socioeconomic issues
affecting the poorer sectors of society during the election, an agenda strongly
advocated by former party chairman Arye Deri, who returned to Shas earlier this
Another party insider said that the unification deal was an
ideological not a political step, and one which would come at a price for the
That price, he said, would be Yisrael Beytenu’s insistence on
support for the secularist aspects of its agenda, which are important to its
largely secular constituency of immigrants from the former Soviet
“Liberman will present a bill to the Likud for this deal, and
it’ll be people of a religious or traditional inclination who’ll have to pay
it,” the source said. “If Shas conducts the right campaign, if the party
underlines what the consequences of voting for the joint Likud-Beytenu list will
be, then for sure it can steal votes away from them.”
Following the unity
deal announcement on Thursday, rumors circulated over the weekend about a
possible similar agreement between Shas and UTJ.
The rumors were
dismissed out of hand by party sources however, with senior UTJ MK Moshe Gafni
telling haredi station Radio Kol Hai that unity between the two parties could
cause both of them to lose Knesset seats in the coming election.
greater concern to UTJ at the moment is the discontent within the non-hassidic
haredi faction Degel HaTorah, which has been riven by internal bickering between
antagonistic elements within the group over available spots on the party’s
One UTJ observer commented that the feeling on the haredi
street was one of uncertainty and disquiet over the public squabbling, which
could cause some voters to opt for Shas instead of UTJ.