The Shas Council of Torah Sages will convene on Thursday night at Shas mentor Rabbi Ovadia Yosef's home in Jerusalem's Har Nof neighborhood to decide who the party will endorse in next Wednesday's presidential election. A source very close to Yosef told The Jerusalem Post unequivocally that the council would endorse Vice Premier Shimon Peres of Kadima and that there was "no chance" it would permit Shas MKs to vote for Likud MK Reuven Rivlin. The source said Yosef felt an obligation to express his appreciation to Peres for "helping Shas through good times and bad," going back to his efforts to help the party's education system receive government recognition in 1992. He said the rabbi was concerned that if Shas did not back Peres, it would be seen as untrustworthy and ungrateful.
Analysis: This time Peres has Shas support - maybe
Likud chairman Binyamin Netanyahu and his party's faction chairman, MK Gideon Sa'ar, met with Yosef on Wednesday but did not succeed in changing the rabbi's mind. The votes of the 12 Shas MKs would give Peres a big boost, perhaps enough to win the race.
Prime Minister Ehud Olmert invited several wavering MKs to his Knesset office to persuade them to back Peres. Rivlin wrote MKs a letter critical of Peres in a last-ditch effort for support.
"The job of a president, because it is a symbolic position, is not to interfere in political or diplomatic issues," Rivlin wrote. "That's why we have a prime minister, foreign minister and a government elected politically. The real job of a president is much less glamorous."
Rivlin said the president "must be able to feel comfortable with everyone, including simple people, and therefore not everyone is suitable to be president."
MKs also received a letter from "Peres" on Wednesday, but it turned out to be a hoax. Kadima asked Knesset security to investigate who distributed the letter, in which Peres was made to sound desperate for votes.
"Against my will and my interests, the moniker 'loser' has stuck to me," the hoaxer wrote. "I am begging you, my dear friends. Do me this kindness and show me respect while I am still on this earth. Vote for me this time. Don't do this to me again."
MKs received another anti-Peres letter from Jonathan Pollard, who is serving a life sentence in the United States for spying for Israel.
Pollard wrote that electing Peres would be like "giving me the death sentence."
"Twenty-two years ago, then-PM Shimon Peres chose self-interest and personal power over his legal and moral obligation to rescue an Israel agent in peril," wrote Pollard. "He deliberately, knowingly sold out an Israeli agent who had faithfully served the security needs of the state. That agent was me. The fact that a man like Peres could even be considered for the office of presidency reflects the degree of rot which currently permeates Israel's political system."
The Legal Forum for the Land of Israel also wrote MKs, asking them not to vote for Peres because he has refused to return an illegal $320,000 campaign contribution given to his Labor Party primary campaign in 2005.
Peres has refused to return the money, despite an order by the state comptroller, the forum wrote. The Knesset Ethics Committee, which is supposed to investigate the matter, has announced that "due to scheduling conflicts," it will not hold a meeting on the issue until after the election.
Although Labor MK Colette Avital has vowed to stay in the race "until the bitter end," one of her aides said that even if she did not win the presidency, she was "already a winner in the eyes of the Knesset."
"At this point, whether we win or not, we are winners in the eyes of the Knesset," the aide said. "Colette has contended for a position that was formerly closed to woman, and in doing so, she has opened doors for women to contend for positions they would not normally consider. She ran a clean campaign and is proud of what she has done, despite what may happen on the day of the vote."