Shas stresses welfare over diplomacy

"Shas will put an end to attacks on the poor, the elderly, the handicapped."

eli yishai speech298 88 (photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski)
eli yishai speech298 88
(photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski)
Shas Chairman Eli Yishai announced Tuesday that he would be willing to negotiate with any party that accepts Shas's "Socioeconomic Road Map". In what might be an attempt to keep as many political options as possible open, Yishai sidestepped diplomatic and security issues and instead focused on its message - that Shas was the only legitimate social activism party, a crusader for the poor and a righter of wrongs. "Shas will put an end to three years of attacks on the poor, the elderly, the handicapped, young couples who can't afford a house, single mothers and families blessed with [many] children," said Yishai. "The Supreme Court is a partner in this attack on the weak," added Yishai, referring to a court ruling on Monday that recent welfare cuts did not violate human rights. "This government has created a social reality in which Sephardim earn 36% less than Ashkenazim," said Yishai, quoting from a report released Tuesday by Adva, a left-wing think tank and social research organization. Besides Meretz, Shas is the only Jewish party that has remained in the opposition throughout the entire term of the present government. According to a recent State Comptroller report, the party's deficit stands at NIS 12 million. Shas's institutions and supporters have suffered from the exile imposed on it by Prime Minister Ariel Sharon, when he rejected its attempts to join the coalition, while accepting Degel Hatorah and Agudat Yisrael. Shas's decision to emphasize socioeconomic issues in its platform at the exclusion of other messages may be an attempt to keep the party as flexible as possible on issues of diplomacy and territorial compromise. That flexibility would help the Shas in any future coalition negotiations. Historically, Shas has maintained a relatively left-wing diplomatic platform, with spiritual mentor Rabbi Ovadia Yosef expressing outspoken support for peace negotiations and territorial compromise. Since Eli Yishai took over the party's political leadership, and especially in the past year and a half during the implementation of the disengagement, Shas has taken a decidedly hawkish turn. Yishai's emphasis on socioeconomic issues might by a signal that he is willing to compromise on diplomatic issues. Even so, Shas does not have exclusive rights to the social justice message. The Sephardi-haredi party is competing with Amir Peretz's Labor, which has undercut Shas as the leading champion of social justice. Peretz has already declared that he supports raising the minimum wage, reinstating child benefits, legislating a mandatory pension law, providing assistance for single mothers, the elderly and the handicapped, and other causes at the center of the Shas platform. Indeed, Yishai was hard-pressed to point out the differences between his party and Labor, but said that his party also valued "tradition and Jewish identity."