Arye Deri and Eli Yishai.
(photo credit: MARC ISRAEL SELLEM/THE JERUSALEM POST)
The chronic tension within Shas between party chairman MK Arye Deri and former chairman MK Eli Yishai exploded over the weekend, with the movement’s leading rabbis instructing Deri not to go ahead with a planned meeting with Yishai on Sunday.
Developments over the weekend further strained the relationship, but the damage now looks irreversible and Yishai’s exit from Shas seems all but inevitable.
Rabbi Shimon Baadani, one of the four members of the Shas Council of Torah Sages, told Deri Saturday night that he should not meet with Yishai on Sunday as planned, and that the council would deal with further developments concerning Yishai’s place in the party, the haredi news website B’Hadrei Haredi reported. Baadani’s instructions were supposedly coordinated with council president Rabbi Shalom Cohen.
Sources close to Yishai said, however, that Deri had told the rabbis of the council to issue the instructions. Sources within the Shas movement, discontent with Deri’s leadership, have frequently labeled Cohen, who was recently anointed the Shas spiritual leader, as “Deri’s puppet.”
The source said that Deri is trying to force Yishai out of the movement, and that Yishai had told the rabbis of the council in meetings last week that he wants to stay and reach peace within the movement.
Yishai reportedly made a series of demands to stay in the party last week, including a system where both he and Deri would nominate equal numbers of candidates to the party’s electoral list and have greater say over which political block the faction would align with after the coming election.
“Eli went through humiliation that is not fit for a man of his stature, and he will not accept it continuing,” said the source.
Relations between Yishai and Deri were close to breaking Thursday and Friday. At a meeting Thursday night between Yishai and Baadani, Yishai was informed that Deri had requested he provide the council with a letter of resignation which would be at their disposal to use, should he act against what they see as the interests of the party.
Sources close to Yishai said on Friday that the request, which also reportedly demanded he not conduct media interviews or issue press statements without coordination with the party, was essentially pushing him out of the faction.
One option Yishai has been exploring is to unite with the hardline national religious party Tekuma, which ran together with Bayit Yehudi in the last elections, led by Construction Minister Uri Ariel.
Yishai and Ariel have met recently, associates of Yishai said.
A poll published last week by Maariv Sof Hashavua predicted that such a party would garner seven Knesset seats in the March election.
On Friday, Yishai met with Rabbi Aharon Leib Shteinman, the rabbinic head of the Ashkenazi non-hassidic haredi community, to get his blessing for leaving Shas.
Although Shteinman is not associated with the party, the fact that Yishai approached him points to a desire to get senior rabbinic approval for splitting from Shas.
The four members of the Council of Torah Sages are largely sympathetic to Deri.
In a separate development, Rabbi Dov Lior, one of the most senior figures in the more hardline national religious community and a patron of Tekuma, said over the weekend that Tekuma should stop negotiations with Bayit Yehudi, with whom it ran on a joint list in the 2013 elections.
Bayit Yehudi chairman Naftali Bennett is thought to have offered Tekuma two reserved spots in the top 10 on a joint electoral list, and a third spot outside the top 10.
Tekuma received four reserved spots in the last election, though Ariel is not believed to be satisfied with the current offer. Bennett and Ariel are scheduled to meet Sunday for the first time in two weeks to discuss the issue further.
The Srugim national religious website carried comments Lior made, who said “Tekuma should split away [from Bayit Yehudi] to preserve it’s unique [character] in the eyes of the public, and to stand fast in the struggle to ensure that the character of the state still stems from the Torah.”
During the last government, Lior frequently opposed public policies and legislation sponsored by liberal- leaning members of Bayit Yehudi and other parties to reform the provision of religious services and to reduce the control of the religious establishment over life-cycle choices in the country.
A source in Bayit Yehudi told The Jerusalem Post
on Saturday night that it would be difficult for Ariel and Tekuma to split from Bayit Yehudi due to legal problems in securing party finance from the state for the election campaign, which parties in the outgoing 19th Knesset will be entitled to.
Equally, Yishai himself will have similar problems gaining enough finance to fund a viable election campaign the source said.