Interior Min. Struck Deal With Haredim to Foil My Presidential Bid, MK Says

MK Sheetrit says ultra-Orthodox MKs told by Sa'ar that he'd close shops on Shabbat in return for their support of rival Reuven Rivlin. Sa'ar: Sheetrit is lying.

Emil Salman

Knesset Member Meir Sheetrit (Hatnuah), who lost in the runoff election for the presidency in the Knesset against Reuven Rivlin, has accused Interior Minister Gideon Sa’ar (Likud) of striking a political deal with the ultra-Orthodox factions to prevent a possible victory by Sheetrit. Sheetrit claims that Sa’ar apparently told the Haredim that he would close down shops in Tel Aviv on Saturdays in return for transferring their support from Sheetrit to Rivlin in the second round of voting, in June.

“Everyone must ask themselves why Shas changed its vote at the last minute,” said Sheetrit on Monday. “My colleagues in Likud told me about the political deal Sa’ar closed with the Haredi parties that included the closing of the grocery stores. There was a break of an hour in the vote between the first round and the second round, and then there was a meeting between Sa’ar [who backed Rivlin] and Shas.”

If the second round had been held immediately after the first round, “the results of the election would have been completely different,” Sheetrit added.

The deal with the Haredim ostensibly included more than just closure of certain shops on Shabbat, according to sources in Hatnuah. It also included a promises for future cooperation if Sa’ar decides to run for prime minister in the future.

Tel Aviv city council member Reuven Ladiansky, who represents the Mahapach Hayrok (Green Revolution) party, said he has asked State Comptroller Joseph Shapira to investigate the matter, calling Sheetrit’s accusations serious, inasmuch as they raise suspicions of buying power in return for forbidden political favors at the expense of the public, and Tel Aviv in particular.

Kobi Cohen, CEO of the Super Yuda chain of supermarkets in the city, which are open on Saturdays, said he had already heard several times of the behind-the-scenes machinations that reportedly prompted Sa’ar’s move.

“The sad thing is how Gideon Sa’ar finds himself as a Tel Avivian selling out all the Tel Avivians for such deals,” said Cohen. “If this really happened it is hard to accept the feeling that personal freedom was sold out in all sorts of political deals in the halls of the Knesset.”

Sa’ar's office issued a denial on Monday, saying, "the things MK Sheetrit said on Channel 10's morning television program are lies and lack all basis in fact. Worse, MK Sheetrit neglected to say that his associate, Dudi Weissman, CEO of the [24/7] am:pm chain is a main business client of Sheetrit's wife Ruti ...

"Minister Sa'ar realized, when making a decision about the law involving closure of shops on Shabbat, that powerful economic elements are at play here and have to be dealt with firmly ... The embarrassing comments by MK Sheetrit just go to show how well the Knesset did in selecting a worthy president."

In response to the minister's remarks, Sheetrit said: "The aggressive and slanderous comments made by Sa'ar prove how true the things [I said] are. I do not defend any businessmen in this country, and just brought up the stores that are open on Shabbat as an issue that Sa'ar used to please the Haredim. I didn't invent these things; they were told to me by knowledgeable Likud MKs."