Labor began negotiations with Shas before election

Yishai says Peretz offered him the chance to join a social welfare bloc.

elections06.article.298 (photo credit: )
(photo credit: )
Shas chairman Eli Yishai said Wednesday evening that he would answer a call by Labor Party chairman Amir Peretz to discuss the possibility of a social welfare bloc between the parties and the Gil Pensioners' Party that would ensure the strengthening of the welfare state. "Amir called me and told me about the idea," said Yishai. "I think it is an honorable goal that reflects the will of the people. The voting results are clear proof that the people want to strengthen social affairs after all the recent welfare cuts." With 13 mandates, Shas is the third largest political party after Kadima and Labor. The rise from last election's 11 mandates is considered to be a result of disenchantment with conservative economic policies aimed at lowering Israel's large debt by cutting welfare benefits. Yishai said that the Social Affairs and Interior ministries were Shas's two most prized portfolios. He also mentioned Construction and Housing, Transportation and Communications as portfolios with high priorities. Shas ran an aggressive election campaign that attacked the neoconservative economic policies of former finance minister Binyamin Netanyahu - policies that were widely lauded by economists and credit rating firms, but which led to deep cuts in welfare benefits. One of the most painful cuts for Shas's haredi constituency was in child benefits. These monthly benefits, which had been designed to grow exponentially for each additional child, were cut and made into a single identical sum paid for each child born. Yishai said that one of his conditions for joining a coalition government would be the reversal, albeit in stages, of this cut in child benefits. One of the myriad blessings received by Yishai was sent by Aryeh Deri, former Shas chairman, who was ousted after being convicted of embezzlement. "I pray with you all that with God's help Shas will continue the social revolution and will restore both Israel's Jewish identity and also the respect of Israel's poverty stricken," wrote Deri in a letter to Shas. Asked if he would be willing to integrate Deri in Shas's activities, Yishai said, "Aryeh is welcome anytime." A clear sign of Shas's social affairs leaning is the party's choice of Rabbi Mazor Bayana as No. 13 on its list. Bayana, the rabbi of Beersheba's large Ethiopian community, is the only Ethiopian MK. Bayana, who has run in unrealistic slots on Shas's list for the past three elections, said that integrating Ethiopian Jewry into mainstream Israeli society would be a top priority. "I will work to restore the respect of the kessim [Ethiopian religious leaders] and put a special emphasis on education," he said.