The chairman of the Sephardi ultra-Orthodox Shas party, Arye Dery, announced on Sunday that his party would not be running on a joint ticket in the April 9 Knesset election with its ultra-Orthodox Ashkenazi counterpart, United Torah Judaism.
Speaking at a Shas rally in the Tel Aviv suburb of Bat Yam that formally kicked off the party's election campaign, Dery said he would suggest that the rabbinical leadership of Shas and United Torah Judaism call on their faithful to vote only for ultra-Orthodox parties, but he added: "The Sephardim will vote for Shas and the Ashkenazim will vote for United Torah Judaism."
United Torah Judaism is itself a joint ticket for two Ashkenazi ultra-Orthodox parties, Degel Hatorah and Adudat Yisrael.
In recent months, Dery had been working behind the scenes on the formation of a joint ultra-Orthodox slate but encountered strong opposition among grass-roots voters amid concern among Shas supporters that it would result in an "Ashkenazi takeover" of his party.
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The rally in Bat Yam, a traditional Shas stronghold, did not attract a large number of local residents. The venue for the gathering was only partially filled and the few hundred people in attendance were mostly party stalwarts.
Dery told the crowd that Shas would join a coalition government led by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu even if the prime minister, whom Dery called "our true partner," is indicted in the pending criminal investigations against him.