Shas' Holy Trinity Pins Its Electoral Hopes on Poverty

Party enjoys support of poor Sephardi voters - and wants to keep it that way.

Alon Idan
Alon Idan
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Alon Idan
Alon Idan

Shas is a party whose existence involves a structural conflict of interests: It remains relevant only as long as its stated purpose is never actually fulfilled.

Shas' declared interest is concern for the weaker strata of society. But in order to remain a two-digit party, it can't allow the weaker populations to actually get stronger, since then it would be doomed to oblivion.

The party's solution to this paradox is simple: It helps the weak materially, by providing food baskets and the like, while perpetuating their weakness by spiritual means - an educational system that doesn't teach a core curriculum, for example. Shas leaves people eternally grateful: grateful for the concern and attention, eternally, because its system perpetuates their ignorance.

This paradox is Shas' constitutive element, the engine that keeps the party going. But it is effective only as long as it is kept undercover, hidden from the public eye. If the paradox was to be revealed, it would cause a lot of discomfort for its voters, who at some point would have to decide whether to resolve it or unravel it. In Shas they know that resolving it is impossible, while unraveling it would make the party disintegrate.

Therefore, to stay in business, every Shas action is comprised of three stages: 1. Creating a distress-producing paradox; 2. Hiding the paradox from the public; and 3. Stressing the solutions for the distress (which was created by the paradox that was concealed from the public ).

Shas' election campaign is true to this triangular modus operandi. On one billboard, we see the chairman of Likud-Beiteinu, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, and alongside him the words, "Only a strong Shas will take care of the weak." On another sign, we see his co-leader of the Likud-Yisrael Beiteinu list, former Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman, wearing a black kippa and alongside him the words, "Only a strong Shas will prevent assimilation."

Here's the holy Trinity at work: Create a paradox - Shas will hook up with Likud-Yisrael Beiteinu even though it's a party that combines piggish capitalism (Netanyahu ) with anti-religious/traditional demands (Lieberman ); hide the paradox from the public - why is the premise hooking up with Likud-Yisrael Beiteinu? - and resolve the dilemma: Shas will fight capitalism and anti-religious policies from within the governing coalition.

One hidden side of the triangle

Within the Shas triangle there are two revealed sides and one that's hidden. The two revealed sides, which always stand out as contradictions of "bad" and "good," are the capitalism and the anti-religion of Likud-Yisrael Beiteinu (bad ) and the expected retaliatory actions by Shas to eradicate the problem (good ). But it's the hidden side that tells the real story. Because the most important stage in Shas' holy Trinity is hiding the paradox, the source of the complexities.

In this case the concealment is expressed in making it axiomatic that Shas will be part of the Likud-Beiteinu coalition.

This assumption becomes axiomatic because it's simply not addressed at any stage. It's presented as a given and is backed by the constant media interviews given by Shas leaders. Aryeh Deri, Eli Yishai and Ariel Atias have all declared that Shas' "natural partner" is Likud-Beiteinu.

What do they mean by "natural partner?" They mean that what is most natural for Shas is to always align itself with whatever will allow the continued existence of the party; i.e., a coalition that will perpetuate the distress of the weaker populations, which will make Shas stronger.

Why wouldn't Shas consider joining up with the Labor party, for example, which in its Shelly Yacimovich version is actually much closer to Shas's official objective of helping the weak? Because a real socialist policy is liable to resolve problems among the weaker public, thus undermining Shas' existence.

Shas will hook up with Likud-Beiteinu because Netanyahu is a capitalist and because Lieberman is "anti-religious." Shas needs a shadow to battle, because only thus can it conceal its own shadow. It strives for a paradox, because only within a paradox can it continue to exist. It needs distress, because if its voters are not distressed, the party will be very distressed.

"Only a strong Shas can take care of the weak," it is written on buses and bridges throughout the land. That's almost accurate: Only a strong Shas can take care that the weak stay weak.

Shas spiritual leader Rabbi Ovadia Yosef, right.Credit: Olivier Fitoussi

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