Shas party leader Arye Deri.
(photo credit: MARC ISRAEL SELLEM/THE JERUSALEM POST)
Against the background of Shas’s precipitous decline in opinion polls as well as the ongoing police investigations into party chairman Arye Deri, behind-the-scenes efforts are continuing by some party operatives to find a way to form a coalition with former chairman Eli Yishai’s Yahad party.
Rabbi Reuven Elbaz, a leading Sephardi rabbi and member of the Shas Council of Torah Sages, met with Yishai and his spiritual patron, Rabbi Meir Mazuz, at Mazuz’s yeshiva Kiseh Rahamim over the past two weeks, a well-placed source told The Jerusalem Post.
The meeting is part of an attempt to bring a semblance of unity to the Sephardi Haredi world by some Shas officials and to ensure that the sector has representation in the Knesset.
Several polls in recent weeks and months have put Shas on the borderline of the electoral threshold with just four seats, and some have even put the party under this mark, meaning it would not make it into the next Knesset.
Senior rabbis and other officials in the party are becoming skittish that Shas could collapse, and have for some time been reaching out to Yishai to see if some form of alliance is possible.
Yishai seeks a system whereby Yahad would remain totally independent of Shas but the two parties would run on a joint list with alternating candidates on the joint electoral list, similar to the arrangement between Agudat Yisrael and Degel Hatorah in United Torah Judaism.
Deri, however, fiercely opposes this idea, as do other members of the Shas Council of Torah Sages, in particular Rabbi David Yosef, son of the late Shas spiritual leader Rabbi Ovadia Yosef.
According to the source, there is little chance at present of the proposal being accepted by the Shas leadership, but that could change very quickly if Deri were indicted or if elections were called with Shas still struggling to rise significantly in the polls above the electoral threshold.
The efforts have been led by Rabbi Yaakov Cohen, the son of Shas spiritual leader and head of the Council of Torah Sages Rabbi Shalom Cohen, who has defied Deri in continuing to seek a way to bring Yishai back into the fold.
In November last year, a phone conversation between Cohen and Deri was leaked in which Deri expressed opposition to reconciliation with Jerusalem Chief Rabbi Shlomo Amar, with whom he has quarreled, and said that Shas MK Yaakov Margi and others were plotting to overthrow him.
Deri and Yishai are bitter enemies, the former having ousted the latter as Shas chairman in 2013, after Deri returned from his enforced political exile following his conviction on bribery charges in 1999 and his jail sentence which he finished in 2002.
Yishai subsequently quit Shas in 2014 to found Yahad, which ran on a joint slate with the Otzma Yehudit far-right party in the 2015 elections and narrowly failed to pass the electoral threshold.
Last September, Rabbi Shalom Cohen met with Mazuz and Amar, another Yishai ally, in what was seen as the most significant effort to date to reconcile the Sephardi Haredi rabbinic leadership.
Contacts between Mazuz and Yishai and figures in the Shas leadership, like Elbaz, have been ongoing since then, and are expected to continue, especially given Shas’s current political predicament.