Shas - Eli Yishai, Ovadia Yosef - Reuters
Rabbi Ovadia Yosef, flanked by Housing Minister Ariel Atias, left, and Interior Minister Eli Yishai at a Shas gathering in September. Photo by Reuters
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Interior Minister Eli Yishai accused his coalition partners yesterday of inciting the public against Shas to make political gains.

"Likud is wary of Yair Lapid, Kadima and Yisrael Beiteinu, so what's most important for them now is to bring out of the closet anything that has to do with religion and state, and get a headline," the Shas leader said at a press conference held in the Knesset.

"But on the political front, is everything OK?," Yishai wondered. "Are all our defense issues taken care of?"

Shas sustained several blows recently with the coalition backing the law on IDF conversions, initiated by Yisrael Beiteinu, and with the cabinet's decision earlier this week to limit stipends paid to yeshiva students.

The ministerial committee on legislation delivered a further blow yesterday when it decided to postpone for three weeks discussion of a piece of legislation initiated by Shas on housing, its first effort to challenge the coalition.

"Unfortunately, of late, there has been growing incitement and hatred toward the traditional Haredi community and those preserving the Torah," Yishai said. "This is happening because different parties realize that to make headlines and create news items, they need to beat on the Haredim and on Jewish traditions."

He charged that senior ministers in the government were conducting a campaign against Shas. "The behavior against the Haredim makes you wonder if there were elections now," he said.

He urged the country's political leader to put an end to the attacks. "I call on the head of Likud to stop joining ranks with those who hate us," Yishai said.

The Likud is in government, he said, because of Shas."There's no reason for them to act against their constituents. The majority of the people of Israel are believers."

He attributed recent attacks on Shas to the fact that "whoever attacks the Haredim gets a headline. Strike a religious person and you have a headline, but accepting them for jobs? I doubt it."

Yishai said the Haredi community is interested in joining the work force, adding that "it is a great blessing to earn a living."

Yishai argued that "if Haredim are to be included [in the work force], that's because of the struggles of Shas."

The Shas leader said that he has no problem with preferential treatment to university students over yeshiva students.

"I never asked for equal rights," he said. "Let the yeshiva students have 50 percent of what the general student population receives. I will fight for them to receive more than the Haredim."

Meanwhile, Housing Minister Ariel Atias, the No. 2 at Shas, denounced the party's conduct during a meeting yesterday of the Knesset faction. He called for a "change of direction" in the party, which he said had lost its public appeal because of positions it had taken on issues of religion and state in recent weeks.

Careful to avoid direct criticism of the party chairman, Atias said that "the situation is one in which Shas is dealing only with matters of religion and state and is forgetting that it is a social party with many achievements under its belt and that it is committed to its constituents, some of whom are religious and some of whom are secular."

Yishai said that Shas has borne the brunt of the attacks over issues of religion and state, because the other Haredi party, United Torah Judaism, has maintained a low profile.