Shas Chief Brands Livni Allies 'Racist, Phony and Condescending'

Shas chairman Eli Yishai yesterday lashed out at Kadima leader Tzipi Livni's team for the coalition talks, calling it "phony, racist and condescending."

"It's interesting that they didn't call Labor, which received NIS 1.5 billion in the coalition agreement, extortionists," Yishai told Shas MKs ahead of the opening of the Knesset's winter session.

He accused the Kadima team of harboring racist attitudes toward the ultra-Orthodox Mizrahi party, and of treating Shas' negotiators with contempt.

His diatribe came as part of Shas' campaign strategy to counteract Kadima officials' characterization of the ultra-Orthodox party's demands as "extortion."

If Kadima's line is to accuse Shas of extortion, then Shas will set itself up as Kadima's enemy in the approaching elections, Yishai's associates said.

"If one who helps ailing children is called an extortionist, then I am an extortionist," Yishai said, adding that the Kadima attacks would "boomerang on the attackers."

He went on to thank Kadima, saying its actions would only increase Shas' Knesset strength in the coming election.

"We were not wrong - we have Rabbi Ovadia Yosef, unlike the other parties' spin," he said.

"Shas exposed the others' hypocritical faces in the negotiations," he said.

Livni said yesterday that she expected the Knesset factions to respond to her move to hold elections as early as possible, especially those that had called for early elections.

She spoke after Kadima's whip, Yoel Hasson, submitted a bill for advancing the elections, at her request. "It's important to hold them swiftly to give the nation a sense of certainty and stability," Livni said.

Livni said "the story of right and left - [political] blocs - are a thing of the past."

Kadima's importance is in its being a centrist part, as after the elections it could form a government with various components, Livni said.

Hasson asked to push elections up to the first Tuesday in February or the Tuesday after that. "We wish to end the Knesset session as soon as possible. The die has been cast," he said.

He said he would try to obtain other factions' consent for this plan. If he does, Hasson would be able to make use of the bills to disperse the Knesset that have been filed by opposition MKs.

The winter session of of the Knesset could be dissolved as early as next week, now that President Shimon Peres has announced that the government is headed for early elections.

Peres on Monday formally set into motion procedures for a national ballot when he said during the opening of the Knesset's winter session that consultations with political parties had yielded no results, and there was no chance of reaching a deal now to form a new coalition government.

Following Peres' announcement,the Knesset has up to three weeks to dissolve itself and set an election date, widely expected to be scheduled for February 10. It is likely that the parliamen

t will choose to disband as early as Wednesday, November 5. "This is the time for Israel's Knesset and political system to do some deep soul-searching," Peres told lawmakers. "It is never too late to fix mistakes."