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Shas's support for Vice Premier Shimon Peres as the next president of Israel will not be shaken by a campaign launched by a radical right-wing group of Messianic Chabad activists, Shas sources said Sunday.
"Those people are loonies," said one Shas source. "They are a fringe group who believe the Rebbe [Rabbi Menachem Mendel Schneerson] is still alive." The source was referring to a group of Chabad followers who believe that Schneerson, the Lubavitcher Rebbe who died in June 1994, is the messiah.
"[Rabbi Ovadia Yosef] has already decided to support Peres. Nothing is going to convince him to change his mind," the source said.
Rabbi Shalom Dovber Wolpo, head of the World Headquarters for Saving the Nation and the Land, initiated the campaign against Peres, which includes the distribution of pamphlets in synagogues, letters to MKs, and billboards. According to Wolpo, who says he does not represent Chabad in the campaign, Peres is an illegitimate candidate because, as a supporter of the Oslo Accords and the disengagement, he committed crimes against the Jewish people.
"People who suffered directly from both Oslo and the expulsion will never forgive the political party that supports Peres as president," said Wolpo, a Chabad hassid who sees himself as personally responsible for promulgating Schneerson's vehement opposition to any and all territorial concessions to the Palestinians, even within the framework of a peace agreement. In contrast, no official Chabad spokesman has come out openly against Peres's candidacy.
Shas is decidedly more politically moderate than Chabad. For instance, Shas abstained in the cabinet vote on the Oslo Accords not out of ideological opposition, but rather out of a desire not to offend its constituency and due to the timing of an indictment against former Shas chairman Aryeh Deri. In halachic responsa, Rabbi Yosef has supported territorial compromises in exchange for peace with the Palestinians, although he opposed disengagement because it was not based on a peace accord between the sides.
"The Rabbi [Yosef] sees eye to eye with Peres on many diplomatic issues," said the Shas source. "True, the Rabbi is in favor of complete separation between Jews and Arabs, while Peres believes we can live in peace together. But both believe in dialogue as a means of achieving peace."
Meanwhile, a spokesman for the right-wing National Union (NU) said that his party had no part in Wolpo's anti-Peres campaign.
"The chances are that we will not support Peres, though we haven't completely ruled it out as a possibility," he said. The spokesman added that the NU might withdraw support for MK Reuven Rivlin (Likud), since he has not come out in opposition of pardoning Marwan Barghouti, the former Fatah leader serving five consecutive life sentences for murder and attempted murder.
"Many of our constituents are very upset with Rivlin over his position on Barghouti, and he might lose our support because of it," the spokesman said.
Meanwhile, Peres's presidential campaign suffered an additional blow on Sunday when Labor presidential candidate MK Colette Avital announced that she had been offered a bribe by Peres's Kadima Party in return for dropping out of the race.
According to Avital, the offer for the position of deputy foreign minister came from a senior Kadima official.
Avital is considered a chief obstacle to Peres's campaign, since she is drawing away much of the left-wing vote - including Labor and Meretz - that would otherwise support Peres. Avital has also garnered the vote of several Kadima MKs, further weakening Peres's support base.
"Peres knows that if he loses, it will be due to the support Avital drew away," said a Kadima MK who supports Peres. "Without her in the race, it would be a clear victory for Peres."
Avital began her Knesset career as a prot g of Peres, and remained close to him until he left the Labor Party for Kadima.
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