Amsalem: 'I'm not returning my mandate to Shas'

Shas party members try to oust MK; Amsalem claims that his stances were distorted to rabbis who spoke out against him.

November 17, 2010 17:12
4 minute read.
Shas MK Haim Amsalem

Haim Amsalem 311. (photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski)

In a dramatic press conference at the Knesset on Wednesday afternoon, Shas MK Haim Amsalem stated that he has no intention of returning his mandate to his party, and claimed that his stances had been distorted to the rabbis who, of recent, spoke out against him.

An article about Amsalem's intention to form a new faction from nearly two weeks ago by Shalom Yerushalmi of Ma'ariv catalyzed the attempts of members in Shas, most notably party chairman Eli Yishai, to bring to the ousting of the outspoken Amsalem, who returned to the country on Monday after a week abroad.
MK Amsalem: Talk of me forming new party is ‘speculation’
Shas council to deliberate MK Amsalem’s future in party

Yishai had presented Amsalem's spiritual patron Rabbi Meir Mazuz with evidence of Amsalem's alleged misconduct as evident in the article and other cases, in which he expressed opinions that were liberal or against the Torah. The senior rabbi, head of the Kisse Rahamim institutions who is considered the leader of the Tunisian community in Israel, had reportedly spoken out against his student, and informed Rabbi Ovadia Yosef that he could eject Amsalem from Shas if he chose to.
All members of Shas elected to Knesset must sign a letter of commitment to abide by the rulings of Yosef, who is head of the Shas Council of Torah Sages.

“My place in the Knesset belongs to the public that chose me and supported me, I have no right to give it up,” he said. When asked if he would defy the order of Yosef to resign, if it should come to this, Amsalem reiterated his commitment to his electorate, and blamed those close to Yosef, inferring to Yishai, with presenting “half-truths” that created a distorted picture.

“My entry to Yosef's house is barred, and has been in all my years in the Knesset,” he said, noting his great admiration and respect to the senior Sephardi adjudicator, who even quoted Amsalem in some of his halachic rulings. “Last time there was an attempt to eject me from the party, when I spoke out against the ethnic segregation in Emmanuel, I was summoned to Yosef's house for a hearing. After a discussion, in which Yosef asked me many questions on my stances, he said – Rabbi Haim, your honor is a Torah scholar [talmid chacham]. How could I do anything harmful to a Torah scholar?” The Council of Torah Sages was scheduled to meet on Amsalem's case this Tuesday, but the meeting was called off.

When asked how Mazuz in this case and Yosef in the Emmanual affair could have formed such a mistaken opinion on reality, Amsalem explained: “There are great rabbis whose world is solely around Halacha, they don't follow politics” and are fed information by those close to them, which is not always accurate or entirely truthful. When asked whether that could apply to the political decisions made by Yosef, such as on his stance regarding another construction freeze, Amsalem smiled sadly and said: “You can figure it out by yourself.”

Regarding the letter from Mazuz that was largely cited by haredi media outlet, according to which Amsalem was supposedly called “evil,” Amsalem said he had a new letter from Wednesday, in which Mazuz denies such a statement, supports his student and issues no order as to Amsalem's political future.

The letter, obtained by The Jerusalem Post, indeed says that, but also states that Yerushalmi's article contains quotes of Amsalem “in the spirit of the [enlightened scholars] from last century, which were inappropriate...” Mazuz writes that it might be the result of distortions on Yerushalmi's behalf, but either way, Amsalem “should retract the statements, and/or sue the reporter for slander.” The letter also leaves the decision on Amsalem's future in Shas in the hands of Yosef.

When asked about the possibility of forming a new party, Amsalem merely stressed his dedication to his electorate and promoting the true Torah way of encouraging employment for those who are not the select few who can become great rabbis, promoting conversions for Israelis from the FSU who have Jewish blood, fighting racial segregation, bringing Israeli closer to one another and to the Torah – all of these goals that correspond to the original platform of Shas in its inception.

“A party is merely a platform, I will continue to promote the goals I was elected for, and you'll see me in the next Knesset too,” he told reporters, without saying exactly with whom.

Amsalem has caused the other Shas politicians grief on more than one occasion – most notably regarding discrimination against Sephardi children in the haredi education system, with Amsalem leading a continuous and clear line of separation from dependency on Ashkenazi institutions. In addition, Amsalem, a rabbi by training, does not hesitate to draw on Jewish sources to prove the importance of employment for those incapable of dedicating their life to Torah study, or to advocate that the rabbinical establishment encourage conversion for Israelis with Jewish roots who have tied their fate with that of the Jewish people, such as the hundreds of thousands of olim from the former Soviet Union who are not halachicly Jewish but serve in the IDF.

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