Shas chief Arye Dery said Tuesday he didn’t rule out joining a government led by Zionist Union leader Isaac Herzog.
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“I don’t, heaven forbid, rule out Herzog,” Dery said in an online chat with Haaretz readers. “I said I wouldn’t sit in a narrow left-wing government.”
Dery, who was responding to a question about why he had publicly pledged to recommend Benjamin Netanyahu rather than Herzog as the next prime minister, explained that he is “in favor of a broad government. I said I’d recommend Netanyahu. If the president taps Herzog, I certainly don’t rule him out. But not in a narrow left-wing government.
“Even though from a social standpoint we have much in common with the left, on diplomatic issues we don’t see eye to eye,” he added.
Still, there is one party Dery essentially did rule out as a coalition partner — Yesh Atid led by Yair Lapid, a longtime critic of Shas. “The chances that we’ll sit with Lapid in the next government approach zero,” he said in an interview with the Ynet news site.
Shas has claimed for years to be a party that represents the poor and downtrodden, whom Dery terms the “transparent” people. But several participants in the Haaretz chat questioned that claim.
A web surfer named Ilya, for instance, noted that ultra-Orthodox schools, including those run by Shas, teach mainly religious rather than secular subjects. How, he demanded, can Shas help the “transparent” people “when you deny them a modern education?”
Dery responded that even ultra-Orthodox Jews who serve in the army and go to college — of whom, he noted, there is an increasing number — have trouble finding jobs. “They aren’t even summoned to interviews,” he charged, because they “disturb the secular lifestyle.”
But he also argued that Shas’ emphasis on religion is important. The ethnic group it represents — Mizrahim, or Jews of Middle Eastern origin — are overrepresented among the poor and the prison population, he said, “and we claim that to achieve an egalitarian society without discrimination we must restore the Mizrahim’s heritage so they’ll have pride. A person doesn’t exist just to eat and drink.”
Another surfer, Elizabeth, charged that judging by Shas’ legislative record, there are “many parties more socially oriented than you, like Meretz, Labor and Hadash. So why vote for you if the battle against inequality in Israel is important to me?”
“It’s important to vote for us on social issues because we’ll be in the next government, unlike Hadash and Meretz, which won’t,” Dery replied.
Another surfer, Yossi, asked how a man worth 5 million shekels ($1.2 million) by his own admission can represent the poor.