A member of Knesset from Naftali Bennett’s Jewish Home party announced he would be joining former Shas MK Eli Yishai’s new faction, mere hours after the former Shas chairman solidified his split from the Sephardi ultra-Orthodox party.
“Over the past two years, I was part of an important political framework that acted to preserve Jewish identity and Torah values in the state. A party that would know to combine these values and bring together observant, ultra-orthodox and traditional [Jews] would be the best political home for me,” Chetboun said in a statement.
Chetboun is the first Jewish Home MK to join Yishai, amid speculation that Housing and Construction Minister Uri Ariel and others from his Tekumah sub-faction in the party were considering making similar moves.
Ariel met with party head Bennett on Sunday evening, in what some believed to be a last effort to convince Ariel to remain in the right-wing party. The two are set to meet again in the near future, sources close to Ariel told Ynet late Sunday.
Ariel’s Tekumah faction currently holds four of the 12 Jewish Home Knesset seats. Last week, the Tekumah MKs within the Jewish Home party — Ariel, Orit Strock, Eli Ben Dahan, and Zvulun Kalfa — called an emergency session and threatened to run as a separate party in the upcoming elections. The session was later followed by a heated meeting where Tekumah members showed up late to a Jewish Home conference and accused Bennett of selling out the values of the party in order to broaden his political base.
Earlier Sunday, veteran Shas MK Yishai registered with election authorities to run under a new party, solidifying his split from the ultra-Orthodox party he once led, Channel 2 news reported.
The independent list is tentatively named “Maran,” a reference to the honorific used to address the late Shas spiritual leader Rabbi Ovadia Yosef, according to the report.
According to the TV report, Yishai’s party name would be changed to “Yahad” — in English, “Together” — if Ariel joins.
Yishai led Shas for 14 years, but found himself sidelined by the return of Aryeh Deri — who had been jailed on graft charges — to the party in 2011.
Relations between Deri, who currently heads Shas, and Yishai have soured considerably since last year’s death of Yosef, who served as Shas’s spiritual leader.
The two have quarreled repeatedly over Yishai’s role in the party, with Deri accusing Yishai of undermining him in a bid to reclaim the chairmanship.
A scheduled reconciliation meeting between Yishai and Deri over the weekend was canceled at the last-minute behest of the ultra-Orthodox Sephardi party’s rabbinic council.
Hostilities came to a head last Wednesday during a meeting with the Council of Torah Sages, where Yishai was presented with a list of conditions that Deri demanded be met before the two could reconcile. The demands included that Yishai draft a letter of resignation that could be used at any time if the former chairman “acted against the interests of the party,” the website Kikar Hashabbat reported.
“Deri has tied Yishai’s hands and feet and plastered a bandage across his mouth,” an associate of Yishai was quoted by Ynet as saying Sunday. “It’s impossible to work like this.”
In a press conference on Sunday evening, Deri denied the charges, saying that he had offered Yishai the No. 2 slot on the party list, and a ministerial portfolio if the party joins the coalition.
On Friday, Yishai met with leading Lithuanian Rabbi Aharon Shteinman and received his blessing to leave the Shas party, according to reports in the Hebrew media. Though Shteinman is an Ashkenazi rabbi, he is considered a great spiritual leader by members of Sephardi ultra-Orthodox Jews as well.
A poll published Wednesday by Maariv, and conducted by the Panels research group, predicted that Deri’s faction would win four seats, while Yishai’s would win five, with both leaders making it over the 3.25-percent electoral threshold.
The poll also found that, under Deri’s leadership, Shas would win seven Knesset seats in the elections, as opposed to nine under Yishai’s leadership.