Shas Sending Netanyahu Mixed Messages About Joining Coalition

Ultra-Orthodox party leaders warn of an unprecedented split in society if conscription were forced upon yeshiva students, but say they are prepared to 'go to great lengths to achieve cooperation.'

Yair Ettinger
Yair Ettinger
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Yair Ettinger
Yair Ettinger

The ultra-Orthodox Shas party sent mixed signals to Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and to Yair Lapid, the leader of the Yesh Atid party, over Shas joining the coalition government that the prime minister will be trying to form following last week's election.

While the leaders of Shas were suggesting that drafting ultra-Orthodox yeshiva students - a major plank of Yesh Atid's party platform - would cause a rift among Israel's population, they were projecting the message that Shas is the right partner with whom to strike a compromise on future arrangements involving ultra-Orthodox draft-age men. Most yeshiva students were given deferments in the past from the draft, but the courts struck down the arrangement.

"We are prepared to go to great lengths to achieve cooperation," said Aryeh Deri, part of a triumvirate of leaders who head Shas, at an appearance with the other 10 Shas representatives elected to the next Knesset. "Unfortunately, we have extended our hand but have received no answer up until now . I hope that in time they will come to their senses. There is no point making headlines over coercion and laws. Everyone knows that won't get a single soldier drafted. It will lead to a schism, to polarization. It will not bring about conscription. Drafting ultra-Orthodox men into the army, who should be distinguished from yeshiva students, will only come about from a plan willingly [accepted]. Every intelligent person knows this."

Another member of the threesome heading Shas, outgoing Interior Minister Eli Yishai, also warned of an unprecedented split in society if conscription were forced upon ultra-Orthodox yeshiva students, while the third leader of the party, Ariel Atias, said sarcastically that he had a feeling that is shared by members of the public and the media that the prime minister elected in last week's election may be Yesh Atid's Lapid.

Although the public appearance by the Shas delegation to the next Knesset was billed as a meeting of the party's Knesset faction, in practice it was a media event at which no questions were taken. The incoming Shas delegation is a carbon copy of the outgoing Knesset faction in terms of size - eleven members - and with regard to the actual faces in the Shas ranks, with one exception: Chaim Amsellem is being replaced by Aryeh Deri.

Deri took Amsellem and Amnon Yitzhak to task. Both ran separately in the last election and competed for support from Shas' voter base, and Deri said without their competition for votes Shas would have been able to form a coalition of ultra-Orthodox and right-wing parties. "Responsibility for everything that can happen is on the shoulders of Amnon Yitzhak and Chaim Amsellem, who were the ones who inflicted this major damage," he said.

"The significance of a coalition without the ultra-Orthodox," Deri added, "which in practice is the desire today of the standard-bearers of the conscription law, is not in fact drafting the ultra-Orthodox. The coalition that is about to be formed is a state of the 'haves.' It's a coalition of the upper middle class. It's a coalition of the state of Tel Aviv and its environs."

From left: Shas leaders Ariel Atias, Aryeh Deri and Eli Yishai in Jerusalem.Credit: Emil Salman

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