Shas puts positive spin on Likud-Beytenu deal

Party official says unity agreement between Ashkenazi haredi party United Torah Judaism and Shas is pure nonsense.

Shas's Arye Deri, Eli Yishai shake hands 370 (photo credit: Shas handout)
Shas's Arye Deri, Eli Yishai shake hands 370
(photo credit: Shas handout)
Shas officials adopted a unified theme on Sunday, arguing that Thursday’s unification deal between Likud and Yisrael Beytenu would cause Likud’s established voter base of traditional Sephardi Jews to abandon the party and flock to Shas.
Party sources also dismissed out of hand reports that Shas might unite with the Ashkenazi haredi party United Torah Judaism, with one official labeling such speculation as “pure nonsense,” in conversation with The Jerusalem Post.
Click for full JPost coverageClick for full JPost coverage
The unexpected unity deal struck between Likud and Yisrael Beytenu last week initially disoriented haredi politicos, but Shas, at least, seems to have found its stride, with one party insider telling the Post that “the party of [departing Likud Minister Moshe] Kahlon has become the party of [Yisrael Beytenu MK Faina] Kirschenbaum.”
Shas party officials now seem convinced that the alliance deal will mean the religiously traditional, working class Sephardim – who have formed the backbone of Likud’s voter base since the party’s inception – will defect to Shas out of concern over some of the secularist policies of Yisrael Beytenu.
“Many voters who supported Likud in the past will now see that the only way to preserve the Jewish character of the state will be to support someone other than Likud- Beytenu, and that will most likely be Shas,” said a party official.
He referenced several bills proposed by Yisrael Beytenu during the Knesset’s summer session which he said run counter to the political and religious conscience of many Sephardi voters, such as a bill for liberalization of the conversion system, civil marriage and similar issues.
Speaking on Army Radio on Sunday, Shas’s joint political leader and Construction and Housing Minister Ariel Attias emphasized that only his party’s opposition to such bills had hindered their progress into legislation, and that religiously traditional voters would remember this come election day.
As such, the Likud-Beytenu unity deal will be “a shot in the arm for Shas,” Attias argued.
In a statement, the party also highlighted Shas’s social welfare credentials, saying that there would be only one choice for those who want to protect both “the weakest sectors of society” and the Jewish character of the state.
Attias repeated this message, claiming that the party would be able to divert voters away from Likud in provincial towns and cities in particular, in light of these recent developments.
Shas is expected to focus heavily on socioeconomic issues affecting the poorer sectors of society during the election, an agenda strongly advocated by former party chairman Arye Deri, who returned to Shas earlier this month.
Another party insider said that the unification deal was an ideological not a political step, and one which would come at a price for the Likud.
That price, he said, would be Yisrael Beytenu’s insistence on support for the secularist aspects of its agenda, which are important to its largely secular constituency of immigrants from the former Soviet Union.
“Liberman will present a bill to the Likud for this deal, and it’ll be people of a religious or traditional inclination who’ll have to pay it,” the source said. “If Shas conducts the right campaign, if the party underlines what the consequences of voting for the joint Likud-Beytenu list will be, then for sure it can steal votes away from them.”
Following the unity deal announcement on Thursday, rumors circulated over the weekend about a possible similar agreement between Shas and UTJ.
The rumors were dismissed out of hand by party sources however, with senior UTJ MK Moshe Gafni telling haredi station Radio Kol Hai that unity between the two parties could cause both of them to lose Knesset seats in the coming election.
Of greater concern to UTJ at the moment is the discontent within the non-hassidic haredi faction Degel HaTorah, which has been riven by internal bickering between antagonistic elements within the group over available spots on the party’s electoral list.
One UTJ observer commented that the feeling on the haredi street was one of uncertainty and disquiet over the public squabbling, which could cause some voters to opt for Shas instead of UTJ.