Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu was assailed by mayors and deputy mayors from his own Likud Party on Monday over what they termed Shas' takeover of municipal funds for the benefit of its own institutions.
Shas controls the Interior Ministry, which in turn controls state funding for municipalities.
Netanyahu had called the meeting to seek municipal officials' views on a variety of issues. But it quickly turned out that what they most wanted to discuss was Shas' behavior, which they accused the prime minister of facilitating.
"It's inconceivable that we, as the ruling party, should be in Shas' hands," said one. "You need to pound on the table. Our children walk [to school] and their children have buses."
The anger was principally directed at the so-called "Nahari Law," which requires municipalities to give the same funding to "recognized but unofficial" schools that they do to state schools.
The two main "recognized but unofficial" school systems are affiliated with ultra-Orthodox parties Shas and United Torah Judaism.
The law was passed by the previous government. Two weeks ago, however, the Interior Ministry sent out a circular to the municipalities giving it a particularly broad interpretation, under which towns must also fund school buses and rental payments for these schools.
Deputy Mayor of Netanya Dr. Avital Laufer, who is also in charge of her city's education portfolio, was the first to raise the subject.
"The Nahari Law undermines state education; it cuts the ground out from under this system's feet," she said. "There is budgetary discrimination here in favor of the Haredi schools. This is a very problematic law and a solution needs to be found for it."
Deputy Mayor of Afula Reuven Yokler charged that mayors are forced to bow to all of Shas' dictates for fear of seeing their Interior Ministry funding cut.
"Shas' control of the Interior Ministry is felt every day," he said. "Shas is simply taking a piece for itself out of every budget that the Interior Ministry transfers to the local authorities. If we want to set up a kindergarten affiliated with the state school system, they immediately demand a Haredi kindergarten. If you want something for the city's benefit, they always demand something in exchange. And if we don't accede, they can delay our projects. This happens all the time, every day, in every local authority. We're the ruling party, yet we're simply in their hands. They control the taps at the Interior Ministry, so they control us ... Out of every payment, Shas takes its pound of flesh. And we have to keep our mouths shut in order to get what we ought to get by right, not by grace."
Shas, he added, does not have a single representative on Afula's city council. But via the Interior Ministry, it nevertheless controls the city.
One mayor not at the meeting who requested anonymity said he agreed completely. "Bibi [Netanyahu] is letting them run riot instead of learning from the mistakes of the past," he said. "This won't end well. A lot of anger is accumulating here over Shas' extortion. It's reached a situation where if you don't give to their institutions, you get hurt ... But Bibi isn't pounding on the table, and our [other] ministers are afraid."