Shas, UTJ work to create united voting bloc

Rabbi Ovadia Yosef and Gerer Rebbe Ya'acov Aryeh Alter will be asked to approve a political agreement that would unite Shas and United Torah Judaism into a single voting bloc. According to the proposed agreement, hammered out on Tuesday between Shas Chairman Eli Yishai and UTJ Chairman Ya'acov Litzman and pending rabbinical support, the two parties would only join any future government coalition as a united bloc. "We talked about working together on all the issues that are important to us - child allotments, yeshiva budgets - everything," Litzman said in a telephone interview. He denied reports that the negotiations also included political agreements on the municipal level. Haredi news sources reported this week that Sephardi Shas and hassidic Agudath Yisrael, which together with Lithuanian Degel Hatorah makes up UTJ, reached an agreement to support Moshe Abutbul, Shas's candidate for mayor of Beit Shemesh. But Litzman said that he was still running his own candidate. "I am still supporting Yeshayahu Ehrenreich as Agudath Yisrael's choice in Beit Shemesh. We have more votes so it only makes sense that Shas should support our candidate and not vice versa." A Shas spokesman said, "It is still early to make a blessing on a done deal, but we are talking about creating a technical bloc that would vote together." The spokesman said he was skeptical whether Litzman would be successful in convincing MKs Moshe Gafni and Avraham Ravitz of the Degel Hatorah faction in UTJ to support a deal with Shas. This week Gafni publicly criticized Shas's spiritual mentor for using political clout to get his son, Rabbi Yitzhak Yosef, appointed the next chief rabbi of Jerusalem. The statement was seen by Shas supporters as a major affront that could dampen relations between Gafni and Shas. Meanwhile, Ravitz said that he did not see the point of entering into an agreement with Shas right now. "We need to wait and see the results of the Kadima primary," he said.