Shas party leader Aryeh Deri on Saturday called on Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to open coalition talks with him, over a week before Israelis go to the polls to vote for a new parliament.
Deri, speaking on Channel 2’s “Meet the Press,” expressed fears that Netanyahu would leave the ultra-Orthodox Shas out in the cold and form a coalition with center-left parties.
“Call me, I’ll come to your house and we’ll decide on [Shas's] entrance into the government,” Deri said, addressing Netanyahu via the television. “Just so Likud-Beytenu voters know, Netanyahu prefers a center-left coalition and not with his natural partners. I estimate that the day after elections Netanyahu will find us as natural partners.”
Netanyahu’s Likud-Yisrael Beytenu list responded by saying Shas was the party that had joined a left-wing coalition in the early 1990s, during the time of the Oslo Accords.
Netanyahu is expected to cruise to an easy reelection as prime minister. Shas, which is seen in pre-election polling as getting eight to 11 seats, is widely expected to be a linchpin of a right-wing coalition Netanyahu may form after the January 22 vote.
The ultra-Orthodox party, however, recently launched a much-pilloried attack ad against the Yisrael Beytenu party, which formed a joint Knesset slate with Netanyahu’s Likud, all but accusing the party of seeking to give its Russian-speaking support base instant conversions.
Deri said he would not apologize for the ad, which features a bride with an exaggerated Russian accent receiving a Jewish conversion by fax under the wedding canopy.
“True, it’s not nice to see that, and there are difficult words there, but that’s what conversion by fax means,” he said. “What are you going to do if the Russian immigration wave contains a lot of non-Jews? You need to deal with it, and not with civil marriages.”
Under current law, Israel has only religious marriages, which for Jews must be conducted under the auspices of the ultra-Orthodox-controlled Chief Rabbinate. Yisrael Beytenu is one of several groups aiming for the adoption of civil marriage in the country, which would allow non-Jews and Jews whose conversion is not recognized by the Rabbinate to marry without having to travel abroad.