Shas thanks Obama for boost

Yishai now seen as "defender of Jerusalem."

March 19, 2010 05:31
2 minute read.
Interior Minister Eli Yishai

Eli Yishai 311 aj. (photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski)

Shas’s slogan in last year’s election was taken from US President Barack Obama but with an added twist: “Yes we can, with God’s help.”

Party officials guaranteed on Thursday that Obama would play a larger role in Shas’s campaign commercials in the next election after the president criticized the party’s chairman, Interior Minister Eli Yishai, in an interview with Fox News.

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“The actions that were taken by the interior minister in Israel weren’t helpful,” Obama said in a clip that Shas intends to save for its commercials.

Senior American officials were quoted in Ma’ariv saying that Obama had asked Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu to fire Yishai for allowing the announcement of plans to build 1,600 homes in Jerusalem’s Ramat Shlomo neighborhood during the visit of US Vice President Joe Biden.

“If such a thing would have happened in the United States, heads would have rolled,” a senior American official was quoted as saying to his Israeli counterpart. “The incident proves that the covenant with Shas is more important to Netanyahu than Israel’s strategic interests, including its relations with the US.”

Shas officials reiterated that Yishai did not and could not have known about the low-level planning committee that approved the plans for Ramat Shlomo. But they said they were extremely happy that Obama had blamed him for the committee’s decision.

“Every time we are attacked from Washington, it strengthens us,” a source close to Yishai said. “The president of the United States personally attacked the interior minister and told Netanyahu to choose between him and the interior minister, and Netanyahu chose the interior minister. What could possibly help us more than that? We will save the clips of Obama to portray Yishai as the defender of Jerusalem in our next campaign.”

Shas’s official newspaper, Yom LeYom, in an editorial in this weekend’s edition, called Obama “A Muslim who doesn’t understand the Arabs” and “An amateur who is inflaming Jerusalem.”

Influential American columnist Jeffrey Goldberg, who is close to Obama, reported in The Atlantic that sources in the White House said the reason for the entire flare-up in Washington over Ramat Shlomo was that Obama wanted to pressure Netanyahu to replace Shas or Israel Beiteinu in the coalition with Kadima.

The White House refused to comment on speculation that it is trying to engineer a shake-up of Israel’s governing coalition.

Hilary Leila Krieger contributed to this report from Washington.

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