Ousted Shas MK Refuses to Give Up Knesset Seat

Chaim Amsellem calls Shas leadership 'kangaroo court' and slams the party's 'habit of adopting Ashkenazi ways of life.'

The Shas leadership ousted Chaim Amsellem from the party on Monday, but the so-called renegade lawmaker continues to make waves. Amsellem has made clear he intends to hold fast to his Knesset seat, one of 11 the ultra-Orthodox party holds.

In an exclusive interview to appear in Friday's edition of Haaretz, Amsellem dismissively refers to the movement as "a Lithuanian-Sephardic party," a reference to what he believes is its habit of adopting Ashkenazi - and in his opinion, negative - ways of life. Amsellem called the body a "kangaroo court."

In the interview, Amsellem lashes out at the Council of Torah Sages, the party's decision-making body, which removed him from the Shas list. The court, he said, "won't allow me to respond, but if it does, I'll tell Rabbi Ovadia Yosef, 'Dear rabbi, I didn't say anything justifying the persecution, slander, placards, boycotts and incitement that Shas leader Eli Yishai has and continues to promote.'"

Amsellem says: "I've received thousands of responses. It seems the Sephardic public is really tired of this behavior. The people are saying we love Torah study and will fight for it, but maybe let's also fight for the periphery, for young couples, for student stipends and against discrimination? Maybe we [lawmakers] should work for the many traditional people who give us their votes?"

Three weeks ago, Amsellem made incendiary comments to the newspaper Maariv about the Shas leadership. Inter alia, he condemned strictures against conversion, growing joblessness and army evasion among yeshiva students and an absence of non-religious education for children.

In the Haaretz interview, Amsellem says he opposes the subordination of politics to the party's spiritual leadership.

"It's an MK's right to say he accepts the ruling of a rabbi or rabbis. I'm in favor of that, but I don't think it needs to be put above politics - an upper echelon of spiritual leadership, a rabbinical council alone is vested with making decisions," he said. "I really believe the place of rabbis is the world of Torah, and they shouldn't deal in politics.

"We can and must follow rabbis, but this whole style, which is a copy of the Ashkenazi style, a confederation of rabbinical courts, just doesn't appeal to me," he said.

Earlier this week, Shas spiritual leader Ovadia Yosef said, "Some are saying yeshivas are great for wise students, who will be judges, who will be rabbis. Whoever isn't should go to work.

"You have these voices on the outside. These are not voices of the Torah, but against the opinion of the Torah," he said. "All those yeshiva students scorning the life of this world and devoting themselves to the Torah, despite having a large family, sitting in sorrow, eating bread and water, giving themselves, giving their lives for Torah, they should be lauded, they should be praised."