Shas to endorse Netanyahu as PM

FM counters that Likud, Shas are a 'package deal;' member denies agreement made before elections.

Yishai brilliant  298 (photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski )
Yishai brilliant 298
(photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski )
Shas chairman Eli Yishai announced Monday that the party would support Likud leader Binyamin Netanyahu, not Kadima head Tzipi Livni, as the nation's next prime minister. "We will recommend before President [Shimon] Peres that Netanyahu be the one to put together the next government," said Yishai during a press conference in Tel Aviv to reveal Shas's new TV campaign. "I see a wide coalition, a national unity government, with [Labor chairman Ehud] Barak as defense minister and with a strong social activist leaning and Jewish values thanks to Shas. Shas will be the mezuza of the government," Yishai added. "A strong Shas means a Likud that is more sensitive to social issues. A strong Shas means a Likud that is embodied with Jewish values and tradition. A strong Shas will protect the weak socioeconomic groups in Israeli society," he continued. "Bibi reached the conclusion after the Sharon-Shinui-Labor coalition that they dealt too harsh of a blow to the weak strata in Israeli society. Shas will prevent Likud from hurting them again." Shas spokesman Roi Lachmanovitch denied that Shas and Likud had reached an agreement ahead of elections. Asked whether Shas would be willing to sit in a government headed by Livni, Yishai insisted that Netanyahu, not Livni, would be the one who would form the next government coalition. "We did not join [the last] government, headed by Tzipi Livni, because she wanted to split Jerusalem, because she refused to agree to our demand for aid for the weak strata in Israeli society," he said. Yishai's declaration in support of Netanyahu might be based on recent opinion surveys that show Likud leading Kadima by at least four Knesset seats. In some surveys, Likud's advantage is more than twice that amount. The message sent out by Yishai came just one day after Livni vowed, during a conference on education at Tel Aviv University, that Shas would not receive the education portfolio. She also reiterated her claim that Shas had attempted to "extort" Kadima during negotiations to create a coalition after Livni was chosen to replace Prime Minister Ehud Olmert in the next government. In its TV campaign, Shas responded to Livni's accusations, saying, "There are 800,000 hungry children in Israel... Shas's attempts to aid these hungry children were called 'extortion' by Tzipi Livni." Livni was forced to call early elections after Kadima failed to reach an agreement with Shas to increase child allotments, which have been cut gradually starting in 2003. Shas's TV campaign also put heavy emphasis on socioeconomic issues. "Even during a period of economic slowdown, Kadima still wants to hurt the poor. Calls to cut the budget will only strengthen as a result of the expenses of the war in Gaza. Shas is the only real social activist party on the map that will protect the rights of the poor." Ilan Cohen, an employee of Israel Electric (IE) and head of Shas's secular forum, said that many members of large labor unions in companies such as IE, Bezeq and Mekorot supported Shas for socioeconomic reasons. "No other party stands up for workers' rights like Shas," said Cohen, who defined himself as "totally secular." He said that there were "hundreds" like him. Shas will also emphasize security issues, particularly that of maintaining Jerusalem's united status. In response to a question from The Jerusalem Post regarding Shas's position on the creation of a Palestinian state, Yishai answered, "There is no one to speak to on the Palestinian side. [Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas] does not control more than half of his nation. As long as over there there is no order, no unity, no real desire to make peace on the Palestinian side, there is no partner. So we have to tell the Americans the truth: There is no one to speak with. "When there is someone to speak with, then we'll talk. But in the meantime, we cannot abandon the security of Israeli citizens," he continued. "How did King David put it in Psalms - 'I am for peace and my mouth speaks thus, and they are for war.' They want to hurt us; they want war." Commenting on Shas's desire for the education portfolio, Yishai said, "It is clear to me today, as a result of the campaign launched against us that implied Shas would endanger the Education Ministry, that Likud will not give up the education portfolio. But we will demand deputy ministers and that Shas have a say in what goes on there, and that we talk about Jewish values, Jewish tradition, respect for parents." He added that "over the years, all the political parties have received the education portfolio - Likud, Labor, Meretz and NRP - and in each case, it was a total failure. The level of studies has gradually fallen, and there has been a rise in drugs, crime and violence. Shas will make sure that in the coalition agreement... everyone will receive Jewish education and Jewish values." Following Yishai's announcement, Livni said that Likud and Shas were a "package deal." "There was a deal between Bibi and Shas even before the elections were declared, and it's clear that it still stands today," said Livni in a speech to 350 students at the Interdisciplinary Center, Herzliya. "To Shas and all the other parties, it's clear that I cannot be extorted. The choice is between Likud and Eli Yishai or us. Shas and Likud are a package deal." Livni went on to claim that Likud and Shas would prevent any diplomatic process and would not create social cohesion. "This partnership was born in sin, and today it has come out. Bibi and Shas. The public has to decide what it wants," added the Kadima leader. The head of Kadima's response team, MK Yoel Hasson, said that "it's clear, contrary to Netanyahu's denials, that an ideological alliance between Bibi and Shas has been exposed. "What has still not been revealed, though, is what Shas's price will be in negotiations over the Education Ministry - billions for child welfare, blocking civil marriages and steps to ease conversions, and making the position of women in the rabbinic courts tougher," he continued. "Whoever votes Netanyahu will get Shas," Hasson said. Kadima also demanded that Barak reveal the deal that Kadima claimed he, too, had made with the Likud. "The public must know that if they vote for Labor, they're getting a government of Bibi and the extreme Right," a Kadima source said. Meanwhile, Labor campaign chairman MK Ophir Paz-Pines on Tuesday also called upon Netanyahu to "reveal his secret deal with Shas." "We will have to pay a heavy price for whatever Netanyahu and Shas agree to behind closed doors. A smart politician like Eli Yishai wouldn't endorse Netanyahu two weeks before the election if he didn't already have something in return in his pocket," Paz-Pines said. Gil Hoffman contributed to this report.