(photo credit: MARC ISRAEL SELLEM/THE JERUSALEM POST)
Eli Yishai stood his Yahad Party down from the election campaign on Wednesday in what will be seen as the death knell for his political career.
Yahad, which was only ever a political tool for Yishai to return to the Knesset after he stormed out of Shas in 2014, was consistently polling at under 1% of likely votes, giving the party no chance whatsoever of entering the Knesset.
Yahad ran as a hard right-wing, haredi party but failed to attract many voters outside of Yishai’s Tunisian community and the followers of his spiritual mentor and rabbinic leader of Tunisian-Israelis Rabbi Meir Mazuz.
In 2015, the party ran in a union with the far-right Otzma Yehudit and narrowly failed to make it into Knesset, receiving just under the 3.25% of the vote needed to pass the electoral threshold.
Yahad’s consistently awful polling in the current election campaign would apparently indicate that the large majority of voters for the party in 2015 came from the hardline faction of the national-religious community who were essentially voting for Otzma.
Despite the polls, Yishai said in a statement on Wednesday that Yahad had some 100,000 supporters and was instructing them to vote for the Ashkenazi haredi party United Torah Judaism (UTJ).
It is, however, highly improbable that Yahad commands anywhere near that kind of support, given that in 2015 the united Yahad-Otzma party received 125,000 votes which represented 3% of votes cast.
Acknowledging at least that his party would not cross the electoral threshold, Yishai said he was ending Yahad’s campaign and instructing supporters to vote for UTJ, so as not to waste votes that could go to religious and right-wing parties and endanger the right-wing bloc as a whole.
Yishai said that he coordinated this step with UTJ and with Deputy Education Minister Meir Porush of UTJ in particular, and then presented it to Mazuz for his final decision.
“Rabbi Mazuz evaluated the situation, checked and investigated the commitment to protect Yahad’s path and took a decision out of concern for the Torah world, out of responsibility for the success of the right-wing bloc and for the values that accompany the Yahad movement, to retract Yahad from running for the current Knesset and to give support to UTJ,” said Yishai.
Despite the scant backing for Yahad, Yishai’s endorsement could enable UTJ’s Anglo candidate, Yitzhak Pindrus, to enter the Knesset, given that UTJ is polling consistently at seven seats. Pindrus, who is 8th on the list, is a former mayor of Beitar Illit and deputy mayor of Jerusalem. He was born in Jerusalem to parents from Cleveland and Boston.
Yishai became the chairman of Shas in 1999, after its former and current chairman Arye Deri was convicted of bribery charges that year.
He served as chairman until 2013, when Deri returned from his enforced political absence.
Despite a massive struggle by Yishai to remain chairman of Shas, Deri called in the promise the late Shas spiritual leader Rabbi Ovadia Yosef had given him before he entered prison that he would be restored as party leader when he was able.
Following heavy pressure on Deri’s behalf, including threats to establish his own party, Yosef honored his promise and anointed Deri as party leader, as Yishai was pushed aside.
Yishai agitated strongly from within the party against Deri, but eventually quit in 2014 to establish his Yahad party ahead of the 2015 elections under the spiritual guidance of Mazuz, where he missed out narrowly on entering the Knesset.
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