Late Shas Spiritual Leader's Daughter Throws Support Behind Party, Won't Bid for Knesset Seat

Leading ultra-Orthodox activist Adina Bar-Shalom will head a women's advisory council in the all-male party.

Yair Ettinger
Yair Ettinger
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Bar-Shalom and Deri at a joint news conference at the Shas headquarters in Jerusalem, December 14, 2014.
Bar-Shalom and Deri at a joint news conference at the Shas headquarters in Jerusalem, December 14, 2014.Credit: Emil Salman
Yair Ettinger
Yair Ettinger

Against the backdrop of division in the Shas party, Adina Bar-Shalom, the daughter of late Shas spiritual leader Rabbi Ovadia Yosef, threw her support to the party in a joint news conference in Jerusalem with party leader Aryeh Deri on Sunday evening.

Bar-Shalom stated that she had decided not to run for the Knesset, which she said would have been "the easier path," but instead will head a Shas women's advisory council along with party leader Aryeh Deri's wife, Yaffa Deri. Bar-Shalom's public support for the party, with Deri at its helm, came despite her longstanding tensions with the Shas leader.

"It's no secret that in recent months several parties have approached me," Bar-Shalom said, "and offered me a Knesset spot, and I considered the matter level-headedly and very seriously."

In the end, she said, she decided to stay with the "political home" that her father founded 30 years ago "and to exert influence from within." The women's council, she said, will be involved with the advancement of women through higher education. "I would expect that anyone for whom my father Rabbi Ovadia Yosef's life's work is important will ignore every personal consideration and put ego aside," she added.

Asked by Haaretz following the news conference why she would settle for a role in the party that was more behind-the-scenes than running as a Shas candidate for the Knesset, Bar-Shalom replied: "Nothing will be behind the scenes," and added: "We will stand on the front lines and fight for the advancement of the status of women." She had not sought out a spot on the Shas Knesset slate, she said. "I hadn't even dreamed about it. I am not an egotistic type."

For his part, Deri told the news conference that before Yosef's death in October of last year, the rabbi had said that he was returning the party's mantle to Deri. The current Shas leader had been sidelined for a period from politics following his conviction on bribery charges relating to a time when he was interior minister. He was sentenced to three years in prison in 2000 and was released after 22 months. Eli Yishai then assumed the leadership of the party.

Bar-Shalom is widely-respected among members of the Israeli public and particularly among Sephardi Jews, from which Shas draws its core support. She could prove to be a particular asset to the party at a time when, in the run-up to the Knesset elections on March 17, Shas-related headlines revolve largely around the split between Deri and Yishai. Support for Deri on the part of Bar-Shalom, Rabbi Yosef's eldest daughter, is also particularly important in light of the fact that most members of her extended family have steered clear of Shas. Some are even flatly estranged from Deri and the party.

Bar-Shalom, who heads an ultra-Orthodox college in Jerusalem, is a recipient of the Israel Prize for her contributions to higher education in the ultra-Orthodox community. Over the past year, she has expressed her intention to enter politics, which in turn has generated tensions with Deri.

Support by Bar-Shalom for Deri brings two other major factors into play. First of all, it is a sign that she will not be running on the slate of Kulanu, the new party that is being formed by former Likud cabinet member Moshe Kahlon. This was a step that she had seriously considered recently. She is also a symbol for many ultra-Orthodox women, and that makes her support for Shas' all-male slate important. It appears that she will also head a women's forum in support of Shas in the upcoming elections.

Sunday's news conference symbolizes the turning of a new leaf between Bar-Shalom and Deri. In an interview with the Yedioth Ahronoth daily, Deri had said that if her late father would have known of her plans to enter politics, he would have barred her from his house. Bar-Shalom responded bitterly, telling Channel 2: "He wasn't in Dad's home for 13 years, so he cannot pretend to know what Dad would have thought about my entering politics. What does he know about Dad? He apparently doesn't know me at all."

Another source of friction with Bar-Shalom came from the harsh criticism that the current spiritual leader of Shas, Rabbi Shalom Cohen, leveled against higher education, an attitude that is in stark contrast with the stance that Rabbi Yosef held.

Deri received important backing on Sunday from most of the current Shas Knesset faction. The MKs convened at a Tel Aviv hotel in a show of support and loyalty for Deri, although the Shas chairman was not present himself. Also absent was Shas Knesset member Eli Yishai, who is expected to quit the party. A statement at the conclusion of the meeting expressed support for Deri and called on Yishai to "reconsider splitting the holy movement and to obey the instructions of the [Shas] Council of Torah Sages."

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