With the Knesset dispersed and campaign season officially launched, the Israeli press has all but taken up residence in the political arena full-time. From now until January 22 we can expect the papers to dedicate more and more space to the upcoming elections, overshadowing everything else.

Today’s top headlines go to what is shaping up to be the first-ever open battle for the leadership of Shas. Israel’s largest religious party has always been strictly ruled by the council of sages, led by Shas’s spiritual father, former Sephardi chief rabbi Ovadia Yosef. His word was law and the political players followed it without question.

In this election cycle, however, it appears that ego battles between current party chairman Eli Yishai and former chairman Aryeh Deri may disrupt the longstanding status quo. Media reports yesterday indicated that Yosef aims to produce a compromise between the men, granting Deri, who recently announced his return to politics after more than a decade away (part of it spent behind bars on corruption charges) the party chairmanship and handing Yishai the party’s most senior ministry portfolio (traditionally the powerful Interior Ministry) in the next government. By doing so, Yosef would guarantee the party its strongest ticket and prevent it from splitting down the center as would likely happen if Deri decided to compete through a different platform.

But as today’s headlines attest, Yishai may not be willing to play second fiddle. Maariv‘s top headline reads: “Yishai rejected the compromise granting Deri Shas chairmanship.” Yedioth Ahronoth reports that Yishai will go to the rabbi today to try to convince him to change his mind. Israel Hayom reports that a final decision will be reached in the next 48 hours.

Another political story that will likely make waves over the coming weeks relates to a series of damning exposés by former political insider Eldad Yaniv. Maariv reports that Yaniv, who for years served as a behind-the-scenes man for several of Israel’s most powerful politicians, posted a video on YouTube yesterday, the first of 20 “confessions,” promising to reveal the dirty inner workings of Israel’s political echelons. Yesterday’s video revealed a curious story about Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s longstanding practice of holding secret meetings in his father’s Jerusalem house and his custom, supposedly confirmed by various sources, including a childhood friend, of walking around with hundreds of dollars hidden in his socks. Yaniv, who is running for the Knesset at the head of the new Eretz Hadasha (New State) Party said he personally saw Netanyahu hand bills he took out of his sock to former PMO bureau chief Natan Eshel. Future installments of the series promise to expose close ties between Israel’s top politicians and leading business personalities, in what Yaniv characterizes as a widely prevalent practice of give and take.

Yedioth features a front page story on former president and current prison inmate Moshe Katsav. After news broke yesterday that Katsav’s wife Gila filed a request for presidential clemency on her husband’s behalf, new details emerge on the ex-president and convicted rapist’s experiences behind bars.

“Inmates are making Katsav’s life bitter,” reads the headline. According to the story, fellow inmates have taken to abusing the former number one citizen by stealing his food, pouring liquid on his mattress and spreading glue on the walls of his cell. The man believed to be behind the bullying is fellow inmate Ami Popper. The bullying got so bad that Popper, who is serving a 40-year sentence for murdering seven Palestinians in 1990, and whose pardon Katsav, as president, refused to sign, was transferred to a different prison.

On the same issue, Israel Hayom reports that the chances of Peres granting Katsav’s clemency request are near zero as Peres has made clear in the past that he takes a harsh attitude to rapists and sexual criminals.

Haaretz is the only paper to dedicate front page real estate to a story about the EU introducing new Iran sanctions, prohibiting the import of Iranian natural gas.

Yedioth reports on Page 10 on the first-ever firing from Gaza of an anti-aircraft rocket. According to the report, last week terrorists fired a Strela missile at an Israeli plane flying overhead, missing it, but confirming years of intelligence reports that claimed they had such weapons in their possession.

A story that appears in all the papers reports on the poor showing of Israeli students in standardized tests. Eighth-grade math tests in particular showed a steep drop from two years ago. The results also indicate a growing gap between test scores of Jewish and non-Jewish students and exposed that tests in more than 200 schools, notably in the Bedouin community, were disqualified due to suspicion of widespread cheating.

The Kahlon enigma

In Maariv’s opinion pages, Yehuda Sharoni and Ofer Shelah weigh in on Likud minister Moshe Kahlon’s announcement yesterday that he was retiring from national politics. Sharoni accuses Kahlon of running away from the hot political kitchen and preferring to look after his own interests rather than those of the public. Shelah, on the other hand applauds Kahlon’s decision, arguing that it is better to let go of the grinding wheel of Israeli politics that to be crushed under it.

In Israel Hayom, Yuval Benziman attempts to dispel the myth that the upcoming elections will focus on the major political blocs rather than the individual parties. Benziman writes that there are no major differences between the parties on the diplomatic front and no “insurmountable” differences on the economic front either. For Benziman, the only real differences between the parties are in the personalities who make them up and the level of trust that the public puts in them.