ovadia yosef looks down .
(photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski)
History could be repeated on June 13 if Shas MKs betray Vice Premier Shimon Peres in the race for president in favor of his Likud rival, Shas officials said Wednesday.
Peres was shocked in 2000 when the Shas MKs he was depending on to win the presidency switched their allegiance to Moshe Katsav. Shas officials said the party wanted to be on the winning side, so its 12 MKs would back Likud MK Reuven Rivlin if it was clear that Peres would not have a majority to win the race.
Sources close to Peres said he would officially announce his candidacy for president in an interview with Channel 2 on Friday night, but Peres's spokesman said no decision had been made about the timing of the announcement. Peres is set to return from a trip to Jordan and Estonia on Thursday. The final day to join the race is June 3.
Prime Minister Ehud Olmert visited Shas mentor Rabbi Ovadia Yosef on Wednesday morning to ask him to support Peres. The rabbi told the prime minister that he respected and appreciated Peres, but that the Shas Council of Torah Sages would make the final decision on whom to support.
Yosef asked the prime minister why Peres needed to be president if the world's red carpets were already rolled out for him. "For him [the presidency] would only give him a house," Yosef said, referring to Beit Hanasi.
The rabbi scolded Olmert for not visiting him since he became acting prime minister in January 2006. "Peres visits me before all three Jewish festivals," Yosef said.
The two men also discussed the Kassam rocket attacks on Sderot, the state of the coalition and child welfare payments. Shas officials said they were surprised that Olmert was adamantly against being photographed with the rabbi.
Knesset Speaker Dalia Itzik visited Yosef on Friday in a meeting she wanted kept secret. An official close to Itzik who was present at the meeting swore that her interest in becoming president if Peres did not run was not raised at the meeting, but a Shas official said otherwise.
Yosef invited Itzik to meet with him because she was the only politician who visited him when he was hospitalized recently.
According to one Shas MK, Itzik discussed the possibility of her presidential bid and was given a favorable response that the Shas Party considered her a viable candidate for the position. There had been concern among aides close to Itzik that she would not receive the support of the religious parties because she is a woman.
Meanwhile, it appeared that Tel Aviv Chief Rabbi Yisrael Meir Lau was close to announcing his withdrawal from the presidential race, according to several Kadima MKs.
MKs Shelly Yacimovich (Labor) and Zehava Gal-On (Meretz) have already called on Lau to withdraw, claiming that there is "damning evidence.. in the vein of Moshe Katsav" that will surface if he runs for office.
On Tuesday night, Tel Aviv Mayor Ron Huldai and several rabbis and religious judges came to Lau's home and asked him not to run for presidency.
"The move to another position, however high and respected, is liable to send the religious system in the city into a harmful tailspin," Huldai reportedly told Lau.
While Lau did not confirm that he would leave the race, he stressed that he had never publicly announced his candidacy, nor submitted the signatures that would officially enter him into the race.