Shas leaders warned Sunday of an unprecedented rift in Israeli society should Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu build a coalition without ultra-Orthodox lawmakers.
Speaking at the first party meeting since last Tuesday’s election, Aryeh Deri, one of the leaders of the Shas party, said a coalition that does not include his party and United Torah Judaism would be one of the middle and upper class, at the expense of the development towns and under-privileged neighborhoods.
Interior Minister Eli Yishai, another party leader, said Shas had recently begun encouraging drafting the ultra-Orthodox to enter the military as well as integrating them into the academic world. However, Yishai added that these are changes that cannot be forced upon the religious community.
Yishai’s comments, on the surface, seem at odds with the proclamation made by Shas spiritual leader Rabbi Ovadia Yosef two weeks before the elections, that in order to prevent ultra-Orthodox yeshiva students from being forced into military or national service, they may have no choice but to leave the country.
Yishai added that at this time, Israeli society is more in danger of being torn apart than it has ever been before.
The issue of a universal draft was a hot topic in the elections. Several of Netanyahu’s Likud-Beytenu senior members have sought to implement laws that would force ultra-Orthodox men to enlist in either the army or national service.
Knesset newcomer Yair Lapid also made it a key plank of his Yesh Atid party platform.
Lapid’s party garnered 19 seats, making it the second-largest party in the next parliament, after the 31-seat-strong Likud-Beytenu list.
Due to the unexpected strong showing by Yesh Atid, if Netanyahu forges a coalition with Yesh Atid and with the right-wing Orthodox Jewish Home party (12 seats), he would have a majority coalition with 62 members in the 120-seat Knesset; this diminishes the bargaining power of the two ultra-Orthodox parties over the make-up of the future government.
Shas won 11 seats in the the election and fellow ultra-Orthodox party United Torah Judaism won seven.