Shas not worried about losing votes due to 'Peretz factor'

Traditional Shas voters will not abandon the party for Labor just because Achlama Peretz lights Shabbat candles, said a spokesman for Shas Chairman Eli Yishai Tuesday. The spokesman was responding to a comment made Tuesday morning by former Shas Chairman Aryeh Deri on Army Radio that Shas would lose votes to a Labor Party led by Amir Peretz. "Peretz may be Moroccan, he may be from Sderot, but his radical left-wing secular views make it impossible for Shas's constituents to vote for him," said the spokesman. "Peretz's first mistake was to invite the Arab parties to form a coalition," said the spokesman. "His second was to invite settlers in Judea and Samaria to evacuate like in Gaza and northern Samaria." However, David Tal, a former Shas MK who joined Peretz in forming Am Ehad, believes Peretz could take away two to three mandates from Shas. "If Amir behaves wisely he can capitalize on Shas constituents," said Tal. "Sephardi Jews see him as 'one of their own.' For many he is a role model." Commenting on Peretz's left-wing politics, Tal said, "After the recent economic slowdown and Bibi's welfare cuts, all that many people care about is feeding their families. Many would be receptive to Amir's socio-economic message." Still, he cautioned, "He should be careful not to lean too radically to the left. He should try to stay close to the center." The Shas spokesman argued that although Peretz presents himself as a champion of the downtrodden, he was really a representative of powerful union interests. "Who does Peretz support? Single mothers? The elderly? The handicapped? No way. He is the hero of Israel Electric's union, the highest paid in the country, the longshoremen with their inflated salaries and other unions that have the economy in a full-nelson hold." Nevertheless, according to a Ha'aretz-Dialog poll conducted by Professor Camil Fuchs on Thursday, Shas would fall from its present 11 mandates to just six or seven if the elections had been held last week. Tal agreed with the Shas spokesman that Peretz had made a few mistakes since that poll was taken. He succeeded in alienating many traditional Sephardi constituents with his invitation to the Arab parties and his bill to extend the disengagement plan from Gaza and northern Samaria to other settlements in Judea and Samaria. "He should also try to stay away from statements about dividing Jerusalem," he added. Peretz's spokesman said in response that the new Labor chairman was not courting any particular group. "The age of parochial sectors in Israeli politics is over," said the spokesman. "Politicians and parties are no longer judged according to ethnic or religious criteria - rather, according to abilities, opinions and actions. "Labor, led by Peretz, will provide a warm home for all groups interested in a change in Israeli society." Gil Hoffman contributed to this story.