The Shas party campaign offices were rocking Tuesday night after the first exit polls showed Shas obtaining at least six if not seven Knesset seats, representing a hard fought victory for embattled party leader Arye Deri.
Polls at the beginning of the campaign had Shas in danger of being wiped out and barely crossing the electoral threshold on just four seats.
Even though seven seats would represent merely a static result for Shas, given that it had seven seats in the last Knesset, simply preserving this level of power would be a major victory for the Sephardi haredi party bearing in mind the criminal corruption charges against Deri and the desertion of many of its religiously traditional voters to other parties.
The first exit polls at Shas’ election rally were greeted with both joy at the positive result the party obtained, and palpable trepidation because of the tight race between the Right and Left blocs.
Deri and several members of the Shas rabbinic and political leadership began their day by praying at the grave of the late, revered spiritual light of the Shas movement Rabbi Ovadia Yosef.
The worshipers prayed reverentially at the tomb of Yosef – who was the party’s greatest electoral asset – and recited prayers that the party patriarch intercede with God to grant Shas success and many Knesset seats in Tuesday’s election.
Indeed, with the focus on Yosef on Election Day and the reverence with which he was in life held by religious and traditional Jews alike, it often appeared that he is still their greatest electoral asset.
At 10 o’clock, the entire rabbinic leadership of the Shas movement – including the president of its Council of Torah Sages – descended on the Western Wall to “break down the gates of heaven” to plead for “the salvation of the Jewish people and the life’s work of our master Rabbi Ovadia Yosef which is in existential danger.”
A prayer was even authored to be recited before voting.
“Behold I come to fulfil the commandment of adhering to the words of the sages and to fulfil the will of our master Rabbi Ovadia Yosef and to vote for the holy movement he founded.”
During the course of the day, a video of some of Shas’ leading rabbis was issued on social media, imploring the faithful to go out and vote for the Sephardi haredi party, with one rabbi warning that “The Jewish people are in danger, physical danger and spiritual danger,” and enjoined the haredi public “to pray against our internal enemies!”
Deri himself, standing in front of a picture of Yosef, issued a similar video denouncing the Central Elections Committee banning the party from awarding Shas voters with a dedicated letter in a Torah scroll and from handing out Yosef memorial candles, and claiming that this would be the lot of Sephardi voters if Shas was not returned to the Knesset with a sizeable number of seats.
“If Shas is weak, what will happen, who will continue the life’s work of Maran [Rabbi Yosef]?” Deri demanded.
“Go out and vote only Shas!”