Affiliates of Rabbi Amnon Yitzhak, an ultra-Orthodox Sephardi leader who’s running for Knesset in the coming elections, filed a complaint with police Tuesday after Shas party activists allegedly sprayed tear gas at him and his followers at an event Monday night. Yitzhak, the head of the Koah Lehashpia (“Ability to Influence”) party, claimed that leaders of the rival ultra-Orthodox list had given the activists a tacit “green light” to attack him.
The incident comes amid rising tension between Yitzhak and Shas, which considers the rabbi as a thorn in its side, because his support base draws heavily from that of the Shas voter pool. Leaders of Shas have had a series of spats with Yitzhak in recent weeks, and Yitzhak claimed he has needed bodyguards since receiving threats from Shas party members.
At some point during Monday night’s event, dozens of participants felt a sudden burning sensation in their eyes. Yitzhak was transferred to a side room, and emergency medical teams arrived to care for the victims.
The Hebrew daily Maariv reported that, according to Yitzhak, Shas activists came to distribute leaflets on behalf of David Benizri, brother of Shlomo Benizri, a former Shas minister.
Shlomo Benizri is serving out a prison sentence for accepting bribes, conspiring to commit a crime, obstruction of justice, and breach of trust.
“He made sure that dozens of activists would come and create a provocation, spit on people, land blows, and spray tear gas at a crowd of hundreds of people who came to listen to a lecture,” Yitzhak told Maariv.
“They [the activists] had a green light from above — what’s more obvious proof than Benizri’s brother organizing this incident?” said the rabbi. “If they [Shas] plan to do this at all my next meetings, I will respond to them in kind.”
Yitzhak claimed he had to enlist bodyguards since receiving threats from Shas activists. He accused the party of waging an intimidation campaign against him and blasted its leaders for not doing anything to stop it.
Tensions flared Monday when Yitzhak claimed that three ultra-Orthodox newspapers didn’t cover the hospitalization of the Shas party spiritual leader, Rabbi Ovadia Yosef, over the weekend, because they thought it was a staged event designed to ramp up political support for Shas before the January 22 elections.