(photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski)
Shas is targeting religious-Zionist voters and will demand the Housing and Construction portfolio in an effort relieve a shortage of haredi housing, party officials said at a meeting Tuesday with haredi journalists.
"Shas shares a lot of goals with the religious-Zionist public," said Ariel Deri - no relation to former Shas chairman Aryeh Deri - who will head Shas's campaign in the haredi sector.
"Whether it is budgets for Talmudei Torah [elementary schools], an undivided Jerusalem, or social affairs, we have something to offer religious Zionist-voters," he said.
Deri, who is considered a strong supporter of Shas Chairman Eli Yishai, said that a special campaign team had been created to muster support among religious Zionists.
Asked if Shas would join a government coalition willing to negotiate territorial compromises in Judea and Samaria with the Palestinians, Deri answered, "Shas did not join the government that decided on the Gaza Disengagement. We will continue to place action before words and declarations."
During the press conference Deri hinted that Shas would also target Ashkenazi haredim.
"We will target all the haredi sectors, everyone," said Deri, who is an aide to MK Meshulam Nahari (Shas).
"In recent years Shas was the only party to fight for yeshiva budgets and stipends for yeshiva students," Deri said. "On a personal level, Shas's MKs received thousands of requests from all segments of the haredi community. We helped everyone equally. I believe the haredi public appreciates the work we did."
However, in an interview with The Jerusalem Post after the press conference, Deri denied that Shas would attempt to woo potential United Torah Judaism (UTJ) voters.
"We do not intend to deal with that public," said Deri. "They are not our constituency."
Historically, Shas was created by its mentor, Rabbi Ovadia Yosef, to represent the political interests of traditional Sephardi Jewry.
One of Shas's main goals has been to combat discrimination on an ethnic basis, especially in haredi circles. Since its creation in 1984, it has received the support of thousands of Sephardi religious Zionists who in the past voted for the National Religious Party.
Now, Deri's denials notwithstanding, there are signs that Shas, which has consistently been the largest haredi political party thanks to non-haredi support, might receive the backing of Ashkenazi haredim as well.
Shas could end up capitalizing on splits in both the haredi and the religious Zionist camps.
In the haredi camp, Agudat Yisrael and Degel Hatorah, the two parties making up UTJ, barely managed to settle their differences in time to register as a single list for the Knesset elections.
Degel Hatorah had hoped to take advantage of infighting among various hassidic sects that compose Agudat Yisrael. Two groups making up Agudat Yisrael clashed in November's municipal elections.
At the same time, there was dissent within Degel Hatorah over the choice of the party's No. 3 slot - Menahem Carmel, a Bnei Brak businessman.
Meanwhile, the religious Zionists are also divided. Two different parties - National Union (NU) and Habayit Hayehudi - are claiming to represent religious-Zionist voters.
On Tuesday there was a new development in the battle between the two parties, as former Chief Sephardi Rabbi Mordechai Eliyahu, who was recently released from an extended hospitalization, declared his support for the NU.
In a letter addressed to NU Chairman Ya'acov Katz, Eliyahu wrote, "I trust 'Ketzele,' a man who knows how to sanctify God's name and to properly represent the religious population in the Knesset. We will strengthen him."
Eliyahu also wrote that Katz listens to rabbinic opinion (daat Torah) and, therefore "succeeds in everything he does."
NU plans to use Eliyahu's letter in its campaign. Eliyahu's son Shmuel, chief rabbi of Safed, has already publicly supported the NU.
However, Rabbi Shmuel Zafrani, Eliyahu's personal aide, has come out in support of Habayit Hayehudi.
In contrast to the NU, whose religious candidates have made it clear that their political decisions will be made in concert with rabbinic opinion, Habayit Hayehudi has stated that rabbinic opinion will not be an overriding factor in their decision-making.
Nevertheless, Habayit Hayehudi has published a list of rabbis that publicly support the party.