Despite Shas' Declared Knesset Boycott, the Party Shows Up to Vote Against the Conversion Bill

The Sephardi party's Knesset faction had said it would not attend Knesset sessions until Rami Sadan, who allegedly made derogatory comments about Shas and Sephardim, is dismissed as the chairman of Channel 10 News, and that the vote was a one-time exception.

Rami Sadan, new board chair of Channel 10 News, left, with Shas leader and Interior Minister Arye Dery.
Eliyahu Hershkovitz, YouTube

Shortly after announcing that they would not attend sessions of the Knesset or vote on legislation until the newly appointed chairman of Channel 10 News, Rami Sadan, is fired, Shas Knesset members entered the Knesset chamber on Wednesday to cast votes against conversion legislation sponsored by opposition Yesh Atid Knesset member Elazar Stern. The party explained that its Knesset members' appearance was a one-time event and that boycott still stands.

Shas, an ultra-Orthodox party whose core constituency is Sephardi voters, is demanding Sadan's dismissal over allegations that he made comments to the Channel 10 News board that were stereotypical of Sephardim. He purportedly told the board that he "hates Shas" and allegedly said the party's leader, Interior Minister Arye Dery, who during an earlier stint in politics was convicted of graft charges and served three years in prison, was "a thief." Sadan denied making the comments but the CEO of Channel 10 News insists that he did.

In a related development, four deputy mayors affiliated with Shas filed a petition with the High Court of Justice on Wednesday seeking an order suspending  Sadan's appointment as Channel 10 News board chairman and requiring that the minutes of the meeting and a recording of the meeting at which his comments were allegedly delivered be made public.

The coalition crisis escalated Wednesday, when Dery declined to attend a scheduled Knesset committee session and instead met with coalition Chairman David Bitan. Another coalition party, Kulanu, also halted a committee session on Wednesday, apparently in protest at Sadan.

At the meeting with Dery, Bitan (a Likud MK) reported that an investigation into the affair by the Second Authority for Television and Radio had found that Sadan never what was attributed to him, and asked Shas to put an end to the controversy.

Bitan had said earlier that while the crisis with Shas is real, Sadan’s alleged statements against Shas and Dery were never made, based on the findings of the Communications Ministry and the Second Authority.

But Shas rejected the results of the probe, saying that its own inquiries found that Sadan made the remarks during the board meeting and that he should be fired immediately.

The Knesset Interior Affairs and Environment Committee had been scheduled to discuss illegal migration to Israel. Panel chairman David Amsalem said Dery called and said he would not be attending, for “personal reasons.” And Shas MK Yakov Margi, who is chairman of the Knesset Education, Culture and Sports Committee, canceled his attendance at the committee hearing, leaving the session to be chaired by Merav Ben Ari (Kulanu).

In addition to Shas’ actions, the Kulanu party joined the protest. Kulanu's Eli Alalouf, chairman of the Knesset Labor, Welfare and Health Committee, halted a session Wednesday, apparently over the Sadan affair. “The whiff of condescension that arises from his words echoes in the soul of everybody who has been treated that way, openly or otherwise, all too often,” Alalouf said.

Sadan himself denied making the comments and said he has no intention of resigning. Speaking on Army Radio, he said, “No such thing was said at the meeting. Neither Shas nor Arye Dery were mentioned in any way whatsoever.”

The Channel 10 board chair head – a friend of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu – added that somebody must have been “very unhappy about his appointment. People have political interests. Some find it hard that the wearer of a skullcap would get this job.”

After Sadan’s interview on Army Radio, the CEO of Channel 10 News, Golan Yochpaz, said: “Rami Sadan did tell the members of the news board and me, ‘I, like you in the elite, detest Shas and that thief Arye Dery.’ He also said, ‘We have to reach the bumpkins in Sderot.’ His speech was halted. Any other description would be an offense against the truth,” Yochpaz tweeted.

Following the Second Authority’s inquiry, Matan Hodorov, chairman of the Channel 10 workers' committee, said a conflict exists over accounts of what happened. “The person who initiated the inquiry is the director general of the Communications Ministry, which is headed by Netanyahu,” said Hodorov, a reference to the fact that Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is also communications minister.

"The person carrying out the inquiry is the Second Authority, which is headed by a bureaucrat appointed by Netanyahu and who denied Channel 10 a license for months. Golan Yochpaz never lied, never said a single thing that isn’t true.”

The Second Authority announced Tuesday that it had contacted the three members of the Channel 10 News board who sit there on its behalf, and asked them if Sadan had made his alleged comment about Shas and Dery. None of the three – Zohar Kadmon Sella, Orna Lavi-Steiner and Eitan Singer – would confirm it. Some were reportedly uncomfortable about other things Sadan said, such as referring to the board as “elitist” in the context of Shas voters.

A senior Shas source remarked Tuesday night that they believe Yochpaz’s version, and don’t find the Second Authority credible.