On an empty stage but speaking to close to more than 900 activists online, Shas chairman and Interior Minister Arye Deri promised to back Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to form the next coalition, saying his party would never join a coalition not led by the right wing.Deri’s promise is good news for Netanyahu, whose right-wing camp has fractured badly after Gideon Sa’ar split the Likud, Yamina leader Naftali Bennett said the country needs a new leader, and United Torah Judaism, the other haredi (ultra-Orthodox) party, openly hinted it could back an alternative candidate for prime minister.“This time Bibi doesn’t need a strong Arye; he must have a strong Arye,” Deri said regarding Shas’s previous campaign in which it implored working-class, religiously traditional voters to vote Shas and not Likud. “Without a strong Shas, there is no strong Bibi,” he said, citing Sa’ar’s desertion of the Likud to set up his New Hope Party and lamenting the erosion of the right-wing camp.“Shas announces in the clearest possible way: We will support Prime Minister Netanyahu as Shas’s candidate, our candidate of the whole right-wing camp,” Deri said. “We will recommend him to the president [to form the government].”The Shas leader poured cold water on the idea that a government could be formed without the Likud. A government with Sa’ar’s and Bennett’s parties would not have enough seats with just the centrist and right-wing anti-Netanyahu parties, and it could not ideologically bring in Meretz or the Joint List, he said.
Instead, Deri said, he would ensure that Sa’ar and Bennett rejoin the Netanyahu-led right-wing bloc, similar to how he convinced Blue and White leader Benny Gantz to form a national-unity government with Netanyahu. Deri said Shas’s policy platform would protect the vulnerable and lower socioeconomic sectors of society from any cuts to welfare benefits despite the large budget deficit the government has created in dealing with the COVID-19 crisis.״We have a very large budget deficit and will need to make big cuts [to the budget],” he said. “We have to do them. The question is how? Who will pay the price?”“There is no more social-minded party than Shas,” Deri said. “We will need a strong Shas in the government with strong representation to fight with all our power on the one hand to ensure there will be a balanced budget, that we save the economy and help businesses.“But God forbid that the burden of this will be paid by the weaker sectors of the economy with cuts to stipends, cuts to wages and similar actions. It’s easiest to cut there,” but] we will prevent it.Deri also vowed to continue to preserve Orthodox control over Jewish life and to prevent any liberalizing changes to religion and state issues.Shas would “protect the Jewish state, protect Shabbat, education, conversion, the Western Wall and everything that is dear to us, including [banning] hametz [from the public domain] on Passover,” he said, referring to a recent controversy in which the High Court of Justice ruled to prevent hospitals from searching hospital patients and guests for unleavened products during Passover.Deri reiterated the messages Shas used to launch its election campaign on Saturday night, emphasizing faith and trust in God during the COVID-19 pandemic. “We believe everything is from God, and this year, the main thing we have learned is that what we are is nothing,” he said.“This virus is a decree from God,” Deri said. “God sent this to us, something impossible to see, and the greatest and richest world powers have been hit the worst. We need to crown God and acknowledge that it is God who leads the world.”