Shas also wants education portfolio, Yosef says

"We have to work to get 18 Knesset seats in the upcoming elections," rabbi says in lecture broadcast via satellite.

Rabbi Ovadia Yosef 224.8 (photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski)
Rabbi Ovadia Yosef 224.8
(photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski)
Shas wants the Education Ministry in addition to the Construction and Housing and Social Affairs ministries, Shas mentor Rabbi Ovadia Yosef said in his weekly Saturday night lecture. "We have to work to get 18 Knesset seats in the upcoming elections," said Yosef, during his lecture, which is broadcast via satellite to thousands of households across the nation. Currently Shas holds 12 Knesset seats. In 1999 the party reached an all-time high of 17 seats. "If we succeed then the next government will need us. We can demand the Construction and Housing Ministry, the Social Affairs Ministry and the Education Ministry," said Yosef. Shas chairman Eli Yishai, who sat with Yosef during the lecture, added that if his party received the Education portfolio it would fight to introduce more Jewish studies into the state secular curriculum. "Shas will fight for education that teaches values, Jewish identity and Yiddishkeit," said Yishai. In Yosef's first satellite lecture after Tuesday's municipal elections, the rabbi was clearly opening a campaign for the upcoming national elections slated for February. This is the second time Shas representatives have expressed their interest in the education portfolio. Last month Yishai said in an interview with an Israeli daily that his party would request the Education Ministry if it joined the next government coalition. Yishai's statement was sharply criticized by sources in Shas, who felt that such a declaration would arouse the rancor of secular Israelis fearful that Shas would attempt to introduce more religion into the secular school system. Traditionally, haredi political parties have confined themselves to the narrow interests of the constituency they represent. As a result, portfolios commonly held by haredi politicians have been Religious Affairs, Social Affairs and the Interior Ministry. The Religious Affairs Ministry controls budgets that cater specifically to religious interests, such as the state-funded building of synagogues or the appointment of rabbis. The Social Affairs Ministry is important for a poor haredi community that is disproportionately dependent on government welfare. The Interior Ministry controls personal status issues such as registering who is Jewish and who isn't. There is also a strong haredi interest in the Education Ministry, which controls the bulk of state funding to haredi educational institutions. But a haredi education minister would also be responsible for the secular school system. Inevitably, he would risk coming under fire from secular Israelis for attempting to inculcate religion in secular schools. If, on the other hand, he did not try to introduce more Jewish culture to secular school curriculums, he would be attacked in haredi circles for not exploiting the opportunity to bring Jews closer to tradition. Unlike Ashkenazi haredi parties, Shas has consistently appealed to a large non-haredi, traditional constituency. In its attempt to broaden its support base Shas has over the years expanded its political interests. In this campaign Shas is championing a quasi-socialist platform that would benefit a wide range of lower-class Israelis. But as Shas increases its voter base it faces conflicts between its parochial haredi interests and its broader political interests.