Benizri to retain No. 2 slot despite expected charges

Claims state prosecutor persecuting him because of his Mizrahi background.

benizri shlomo 224 88  (photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski [file])
benizri shlomo 224 88
(photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski [file])
Shlomo Benizri will remain in Shas's number two slot despite a planned indictment for alleged bribery and breach of trust, Shas sources said Tuesday. Shas will attempt to garner public opinion against the indictment by claiming charges of ethnic discrimination. However, the use of ethnicity would be less aggressive than the Aryeh Deri defense campaign of 1996, the sources said. Two Shas MKs who served in the previous Knesset will be leaving the party. Yair Peretz was disgraced after pleading guilty to using a fictitious college degree to boost his salary. The police have also recommended indicting Peretz on charges of bribery. In contrast, Nissim Dahan, who represents Rabbi Shimon Badani, one of five rabbis on Shas's Council of Sages, will leave his Knesset post to return to Torah studies. Dahan, a former health minister, was highly regarded by professionals in the medical system and in the ministry. However, Dahan came under fire Tuesday for insisting, during a debate with representatives of other political parties at a high school, that Jewish law prohibited women from serving as MKs. Shas sources suggested there would be at least one new face in Shas's top ten. His name is Ariel Atias, CEO of Badatz Beit Yosef, Shas's Kashrut supervision apparatus. Atias, who is expected to be ranked high on the Shas list, is in constant close contact with the party's spiritual leader Rabbi Ovadia Yosef over Kashrut issues. As a result, relations between the two are very warm. "The rabbi enjoys talking about the halachic issues of kashrut," said a Shas source. "So that gave Atias a unique opportunity to develop a relationship with him." Atias is considered a gifted manager who helped expand the Kashrut business, which does not earn big profits but does employ hundreds of supervisors, thus helping expand Shas's support base. The kashrut apparatus is also part of Ovadia's push to adhere to the idiosyncratic demands of Sephardi Jewry. Sephardi kashrut customs are more stringent than Ashkenazi Jewry's in two areas: ritual slaughter and the use of gentiles in the cooking process. "The Badatz has expanded to the point where it can provide supervision for almost every product found in the supermarket," said a Shas source proudly. Another name mentioned is Yoav Ben Tzur, head of Shas's educational network and a Jewish Agency program for the rehabilitation of handicaps and elderly. Pini Tzabari, deputy mayor of Bnei Brak is expected to be ranked in the top 20. Shas's top ten are mostly veteran MKs who represent either geographic areas - such as Yitzhak Cohen who serves the south, and David Azulai in the north; or large and affluent ethnic groups - such as Amnon Cohen, who represents the Bucharan community. Others serve large grassroots movements or institutions such as Benizri, who represents the tshuva (return to religion) movement, headed by Rabbi Reuven Elbaz. Representatives of the Georgian, Indian and Ethiopian communities are also expected to be on the party's list. Eli Yishai, Shas's chairman, who holds the number one slot, is interested in making as few changes as possible in the list to avoid confrontations from tens of interest groups lobbying for representation. One such group is the Abuchatzeira family of kabbalists which includes the Baba Baruch in Netivot and Rabbi David in Nahariya. On Wednesday Shas's Council of Sages - headed by Ovadia and also manned by Badani who is head of the Torah ve'Chaim yeshiva, Rabbi Shalom Cohen, head of Yeshivat Porat Yosef and Rabbi Moshe Maya, a rabbi of south Tel Aviv - will choose the list. On Thursday Yishai will go over the list with Ovadia. Later in the day the list will be presented to the public at Ovadia's Har Nof residence.