Shas leaders were busy Thursday, apprehensively calculating the possible damage if Social Affairs Minister Moshe Kahlon decides to establish a new party. But they feigned self confidence.

"He was a breeze of compassion in Likud, compassion which is no longer present," co-chairman Aryeh Deri said at the conference of the Union of Local Authorities in Israel. "He is warmly invited to establish a new party," Deri said, asserting that Kahlon's party will not lure voters away from Shas.

Interior Minister Eli Yishai said, "In recent days, we're witnessing a Sephardi, socially aware song festival. Suddenly everybody wants to be Sephardi and socially conscious. Everyone is searching for the wandering socially aware politician. It is actually our success, since we placed social matters on the agenda. I hope that the new socially conscious Sephardim won't change their tune after the elections, and won't forget the social issues once they join the government. If they see a bad budget, I hope they won't approve it."

Referring to the budget, Deri said Shas would not join a government that supported the cuts being recommended by the Finance Ministry. "The cuts proposed by the Finance Ministry will leave us out of the coalition," he said.

Shas officials are preparing for a huge conference at Jerusalem's International Convention Center Saturday night. The event will be headlined by Rabbi Ovadia Yosef, the party's spiritual leader; members of the Council of Torah Sages, the party's policy-making council; and Shas MKs.