Arye Deri and Eli Yishai.
(photo credit: MARC ISRAEL SELLEM/THE JERUSALEM POST)
Rebel Shas MK and former party chairman Eli Yishai looks set to quit the ultra-Orthodox Sephardi party and establish one of his own to run in the upcoming elections.
According to a Channel 2 report Sunday, Yishai is poised to announce the new party, which will be called “Maran” – the term of honor used to refer to the former spiritual leader of Shas, the late Rabbi Ovadia Yosef.
A source close to Yishai confirmed to The Jerusalem Post Sunday night that the MK had made advanced plans to establish his own party and that he would make a final decision on Monday whether or not to register the party with the elections committee.
Shas is expected to object to the use of the name Maran, and if the party registration committee does not permit its use, the party will be called Yachad – Hebrew for “together,” Channel 2 said.
Earlier on Sunday, nine of Shas’s 11 MKs gathered in Tel Aviv and signed a letter stating that they support party chairman Arye Deri.
“We, the Knesset members for Shas, have gathered here in the city of Tel Aviv today, on Sunday the 22nd of Kislev. We, who are faithful to the way of our great leader Rabbi Ovadia Yosef, and who listen to the instructions of the Council of Torah Sages led by Rabbi Shalom Cohen, we support the chairman of Shas, MK Arye Deri, who was appointed by the holy Rabbi Ovadia Yosef together with the Council of Torah Sages,” they declared.
They called on “our friend MK Eli Yishai to go back on his intentions to split the holy movement and to listen to the instructions of the Council of Torah Sages.”
Several Shas MKs, including one of the party’s founders, Nissim Ze’ev, and former religious services minister Ya’acov Margi, are known to be unhappy with the Deri’s leadership and were considering their positions in the party.
They were particularly unnerved by speculation Deri would bring his own people to the party’s electoral list, replacing them and effectively ending their political careers.
Last week, one MK described Deri’s behavior as “hypocritical and manipulative” in a conversation with the Post.
Since Shas does not hold primary elections and the electoral list of Knesset candidates is drawn up by the party chairman in conjunction with the four-member Council of Torah Sages, the political lives of the rank and file MKs are tenuous without the support and patronage of the movement’s rabbis and chairman.
One option Yishai has been exploring in recent days is running together with the Tekuma party, headed by Construction Minister Uri Ariel.
Tekuma ran on a joint list with Bayit Yehudi in the 2013 general election, but frequent conflicts between Ariel and Bayit Yehudi chairman Naftali Bennett have complicated efforts to renew a joint electoral list for the coming election. Bennett and Ariel were scheduled to meet late Sunday night to try and resolve the issues.
According to the Channel 2 report, if Tekuma rejects the Bayit Yehudi offer, there is a strong chance Yishai and Tekuma will team up.
In a separate development, Adina Bar-Shalom, the daughter of Rabbi Ovadia Yosef, announced at a joint press conference with Deri on Sunday that she would be heading a new women’s council for the Shas movement.
Bar-Shalom said she had received several opportunities to stand as a Knesset candidate from other parties, but that she was choosing to remain in the Shas framework to influence it from within, even if that meant not standing for election.
Last week, a campaign was launched by a group of haredi (ultra-Orthodox) women demanding that the mainstream haredi parties Shas and United Torah Judaism nominate a woman to run for Knesset.
The “No Representation No Vote” group called on ultra-Orthodox women not to vote for the haredi parties if they refused to add a woman to their electoral lists.
The group said it saw the announcement on Sunday of a Shas council for women headed by Bar-Shalom as a “symbolic achievement” and a milestone on the way to political representation for haredi women.
It insisted, however, that it would not retract its demands for female representation on the haredi party electoral lists and was still calling for ultra-Orthodox women not to vote for UTJ or Shas unless this request is met.
“We are sure our campaign led to this development and we see the announcement as a symbolic achievement that, for the first time, haredi women are part of the political process, not only confined to the inside but up front and visible,” said Esti Shushan, one of the “No Representation No Vote” leaders.
“However, the mission won’t be complete until there is a haredi woman in Knesset to represent us.”