Deri vows to protect poor as he launches Shas election campaign

Shas chairman launches the party’s election campaign with fierce attack on Likud, Yesh Atid and Bayit Yehudi over plight of Israel's poor.

Homelessness in Jerusalem  (photo credit: MARC ISRAEL SELLEM/THE JERUSALEM POST)
Homelessness in Jerusalem
Shas chairman Arye Deri launched the party’s election campaign Thursday night with a fierce attack on the Likud, Yesh Atid and Bayit Yehudi, saying that they ignored the plight of the country’s poor and that Shas would close socioeconomic gaps.
Surrounded by pictures of the late spiritual leader of the Shas movement, Rabbi Ovadia Yosef, Deri made an impassioned appeal to working-class voters, particularly in the country’s periphery, that Shas would look out for them as no other party would, and said that the war on poverty was “just as important as the war against Hamas, Iran and Islamic State.”
Noticeably absent from his address was a focus on religious issues, which he barely mentioned at all, except to reiterate that Shas and Yosef had always and would always seek to “protect Judaism and religious tradition.”
At the beginning of his speech, the Shas chairman made a fleeting, implicit reference to the video leaked recently of Yosef calling Deri an “evil man” for not listening to the rabbi’s instructions and being “too independent,” saying that he and his family had experienced difficult times of late.
Deri submitted a letter of resignation to the Shas Council of Torah Sages in the wake of the video, but earlier this week said he had been convinced by them to return and lead the party into the election.
Shas has been riven by internal conflict, with former Shas MK and chairman Eli Yishai breaking away last month to form his own party, while the death of Yosef, who was one of Shas’s main electoral assets, has heavily hurt the party’s standing in opinion polls.
In light of these difficulties, several other political factions have been eager to try and lure Shas voters away from the party, including the Likud and Bayit Yehudi, and it was at them that Deri took aim in his speech.
“There are two million Israelis under the poverty line, but the government doesn’t take care of them... and all anyone wants to do is look out for the middle class and let them make more money,” said the Shas chairman.
“Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, how do you sleep at night when 30 percent of children go to bed hungry?” he asked. “Where is your mercy, where is your responsibility?” he continued.
Turning to Bayit Yehudi chairman Naftali Bennett and disparaging the alliance he made with Yesh Atid at the beginning of the outgoing Knesset, Deri accused him of abandoning the poor as well.
“Remember, Bennett, that it is impossible to protect the Land of Israel without the people of, and Torah of, Israel,” he said.
“The Land of Israel is beloved to us, but currently there is no partner [for peace negotiations] and the Land of Israel is not in danger. But there are three flags to fly – those of the land, the Torah, and the people – and Shas is looking out for the people and the Torah.
“I promise that in two months, the sun will shine on the poor. We will be there for those ‘invisible’ people. We will close the [socioeconomic] gaps. Children will have something to eat and will not go to bed hungry.”