Former OC Human Resources Maj.-Gen Elazar Stern (res.) has joined the Am Shalem party, it was confirmed on Thursday.
Stern, a well-known public figure, is a significant addition to the Am Shalem candidates list, which is headed by MK Rabbi Haim Amsalem, formerly of Shas until his expulsion from the party two years ago.
According to Amsalem’s office, he and Stern have maintained a close relationship for several years and have collaborated on a number of issues, including conversion for IDF soldiers of Jewish descent who are nevertheless not considered Jewish according to Jewish law.
Although the former general is not yet commenting on the development, Amsalem confirmed Thursday morning on Army Radio that Stern was indeed joining his party.
“Maj.-Gen. Stern is a good man and I’m very happy that someone like him really believes in our approach,” Amsalem said.
Two central aspects of Am Shalem’s election platform are the hot-button issues of increasing haredi enlistment in military and national service programs, and integrating ultra-Orthodox men into the work force, both issues in which Stern has experience.
Amsalem has also vowed “to bring back moderate and beautiful Judaism to the Jewish people,” and has harshly denounced Shas for abandoning its constituents.
Amsalem was expelled from Shas in 2010 due to his public criticism of the party regarding discrimination against Sephardi girls in haredi schools, and failing to encourage members of the haredi community to perform military service and integrate into the work force. He nevertheless refused to vacate his Knesset seat.
According to a recent poll conducted by Panels – a research and polling institute – Am Shalem will garner three seats in the coming elections, putting it above the electoral 2-percent threshold and into the Knesset.
Stern is expected to receive the number two spot on the party list. He has worked extensively on haredi military enlistment and integration into the work force, and gave evidence in June to the Keshev Committee that was set up to devise new legislation for drafting haredi men into the army.
Stern has himself suggested a radical plan to solve low haredi enlistment and employment, proposing that all haredi men be given an exemption from national service for a period of 10 years and thereby allow them to enter the work force immediately.
According to the law and arrangements that were in place until August, a full-time yeshiva student could not gain legal employment until age 23 on the basis that “the Torah is his profession,” after which he was only allowed to work legally on a part time basis.
Stern argues that by allowing young haredi men to immediately enter into the work force it will help integrate them and haredi society into broader Israeli society and thereby pave the way for future haredi integration into the army.
The general has previously said that the “strategic threat” posed by haredim not serving in the army “is not a security problem, but an economic and cultural [one].”
In addition to Stern’s arrival, rumors abounded on Thursday that Likud MK and Minister of Welfare and Social Services Moshe Kahlon could also join Am Shalem. Amsallem’s office said that associates of Kahlon and Amsalem had been in touch, but refused to comment further.
According to haredi news website B’hadrei Haredim, a source close to Kahlon said that joining with Amsalem would be “very appropriate because of Amsalem’s religious and social values which are commensurate with Kahlon’s.”