Things Are Different When It Comes to Shas

On Tuesday at 10 PM, after the exit poll by Mina Tzemach was released, predicting Shas would go from 11 to 10 seats, it was very difficult to understand why Shas members were singing and dancing. In the final analysis, Shas received 13 seats, and once again it seems things are different when it comes to Shas. If, in the surveys, this can be explained by the fact that it is difficult for the pollsters to reach some of the Shas voters, who are among the weakest sectors of society, how exactly can this be explained by the exit polls, which are supposed to reflect the voting itself?

There is no question that the night after the elections was Eli Yishai's big night. For six years they've been asking in Shas whether the "shadow" had passed. The shadow is that of former Shas leader Aryeh Deri. No matter what Yishai did to prove himself, the shadow refused to go away, one reason being the huge difference in charisma between the two. This time it looks as though there is a chance the shadow will disappear. And what about the new threat, no. 2 on the party slate, Ariel Attias? He will apparently have to reconcile himself for now on to the fact that Yishai delivered the goods, and therefore Yishai is not going anywhere. All the gambles that Yishai took in the election campaign proved themselves. He gambled on stressing social welfare, and succeeded. In the last week of the campaign, says Tzemach, the social agenda returned in full strength. Yishai gave up two of Shas' electoral aces in the hole, and refused to play the ethnic card or embark on a war against the rule of law. In spite of that, he did not suffer at the polls.

He caused surprise when he placed at the margins of the slate a representative of new immigrants from Georgia, attorney Avraham Michaeli, and a representative of the Ethopian immigrants, Rabbi Mazor Bayana, and apparently received votes from the two communities. He agreed to place MK Yair Peretz, who has been indicted, in 14th place on the list, and for now at least, fortunately for Shas, Peretz will not be in the Knesset.

No less important: It is hard to form a government without Shas. The two possible coalitions for Kadima are with Labor, the pensioners and the Haredim (ultra-Orthodox), on the one hand, or with Labor, the pensioners and Lieberman (Yisrael Beiteinu), on the other. It is not hard to guess what Labor wants, particularly in light of the cooperation that blossomed during the election campaign between Yishai and Labor chair Amir Peretz. But the gaps between Shas and Kadima look very large at this stage. Shas continues to oppose the disengagement. A formula will have to be found based on the principle that every effort will be made to achieve a bilateral agreement.

Shas wants to increase the child allowances. If that happens, Olmert is liable to lose many of his supporters, former Shinui voters. This time, the Shas shopping basket will be especially socially oriented, and will also include increasing the health care basket and allowances for the elderly. Together with Labor's basket, which includes increasing the minimum wage, and the pensioners' basket, it looks as though the next coalition will cost a great deal of money. Yishai's associate Itzik Suderi, says that the "pension parties" - Labor, Shas and the pensioners party - received 40 seats, and Kadima will have to take that into consideration.

What else will the Haredim ask for? As usual, money for yeshivas, for Torah education, for the private education systems Maayan Hahinuch Hatorani (Shas) and Hinuch Atzmai (United Torah Judaism), and for the religious boarding schools. We can assume the demands will reach about NIS 1 billion, and the actual allocations for religious matters will be in the range of NIS 0.5 billion. In Shas they say that they have learned from experience, and will not infuriate the secular community with a demand to reestablish the Ministry of Religious Affairs. They will make do with receiving control of religious services. This role is apparently earmarked for Attias.

The De Hartoch bypass law

And what about coordination in the negotiations between Shas and United Torah Judaism (UTJ), which was discussed before the elections? In Shas they believe there will be coordination. We can reasonably assume that as usual, Shas will allow UTJ to conduct the negotiations on religious matters, and will rely on its agreements. Will the two parties commit themselves not to enter the Knesset without one another? That is apparently too much to ask. Besides, at the last moment they are expected to wage a bitter battle over control of Jewish education and religious services.

Avraham Ravitz, Deputy Minister of Social Affairs, maintains that "Shas is not built for coordination. The moment that Shas feels that their needs are being met, they won't count us in. There is no value to that." In the era of socially oriented politics, we can reasonably assume that there will be a very great demand for the ministry in which Ravitz sits.

As we wrote here yesterday, a major demand of UTJ will be a law bypassing De Hartoch (attorney Amnon De Hartoch, the head of the Support Funding department in the office of the attorney general.) The law stipulates that the attorney general has to authorize all criteria for allocation of funds, and De Hartoch is the official who examines those criteria, to enable a reinforcement of the budgets of the Hinuch Atzmai education system, in areas such as transportation and nutrition. "We will demand clear and specific legislation so that they won't be able to use the principle of equality in order to create inequality," says Ravitz.

A major obstacle on the way to the entry of UTJ into the coalition could be an initiative to pass the partnership law, enabling civil marriage. "We cannot agree to that," says Ravitz. Assuming Yisrael Beiteinu, the faction representing immigrants from the former Soviet Union, will have difficulty entering the coalition without this law, the Haredim and Lieberman will apparently have a hard time sitting together.

The refuge of the floating vote

The problematic nature of the relationship between polls and politics was reflected in the surprising success of the Pensioners Party. As long as the surveys showed they did not pass the minimum threshold, they were unable to take off. On Friday, the pensioners were still receiving 1.4 percent in Mina Tzemach's survey and in the Yedioth Ahronoth. In Monday's surveys, they were already receiving two seats, according to all the polls. The moment that the surveys indicated they would pass the threshold, the party became the refuge of the floating vote.

In other words, the Pensioners Party proved there could be a situation in which a large number of voters wanted to vote for a party that did not pass the threshold, according to the surveys, but were afraid to do so. If Yedioth had not presented a graph last Friday with the borderline parties, would the results have been different? Mina Tzemach agrees that a party that does not pass the threshold in the surveys has only a very slight chance of passing it in actuality. "The fact is that no other party passed," she says.

On the other hand, the question arises: Would so many people really have voted for the pensioners had they imagined they would receive seven seats? And here is another disturbing question: How many of the veterans of the Labor Party went over to the pensioners? And how many of them did so because they couldn't bear the thought of being represented by a party leader who is a native of Morocco? One can take certain consolation in the fact that no. 2 on the pensioners' slate is Yaakov Ben-Yizri, chair of the organization of Health Maintenance Organization workers, who is himself a native of Morocco.

One of the main arguments against Amir Peretz was that he represented the large and strong workers' unions. The Pensioners Party is composed almost entirely of heads of pensioners' organizations. In fifth place, for example, is chair of the association of the Israel Electric Corporation pensioners, incoming MK Yitzhak Galanti. In fourth place, deputy chair of the organization of Bezek pensioners, incoming MK Yitzhak Ziv. In sixth place, chair of the association of Israel Military Industries pensioners, Elhanan Glazer. That doesn't say anything negative about the pensioners, but it may say something about voters' superficiality.

What can be learned from the fact the party of the employers, Kadima, lost 15 seats in the surveys in the past weeks, and the party of former employees, the pensioners, received seven seats, some of them from people who are still working? Apparently we can learn that the question preoccupying many people is "Who knows what tomorrow will bring?"; that many people are afraid that when they reach pension age, there will be nobody to take care of them; and that many people are afraid that they won't ever make it to a pension, because they will be fired earlier, and there will be nobody to prevent that.

A large number of medium-sized parties

The present election campaign can definitely be seen as one large vote of no confidence in the political system, and mainly in the major parties. This time, the Israeli voter had not two, but three major parties to choose from. He gave all three of them together only 59 seats. Two of them, Labor and the Likud, emerged from the elections as medium-sized parties. The new Knesset looks like the Knessets from the period of the direct election system, with a large number of medium-sized parties, and very little ability to rule.

During the period of direct elections, the post-modern vote was explained by the fact the voter had two ballots, and voted for the prime minister on the political issue, and for a sectoral party that would represent his interests in the Knesset. This time, the voter simply gave up on the vote for the prime minister, and gave his vote to the pensioners or to Lieberman. Maybe he did so because he had a feeling that, as prime minister-designate Ehud Olmert said, the elections had already been decided, and perhaps as a protest over the candidates on offer for prime minister.

The problem is that during the period of direct elections, at least the prime minister had more power. Now even that is not the case. Olmert will have to head a coalition in which his party will constitute a minority. Therefore, we should not be surprised if the next elections take place in another two to three years from now. On the other hand, we can assume that the Pensioners Party, whose chances of repeating its success are very slight, will not support moving up the elections.