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Ultra-Orthodox Shas said set to take control of nation’s community centers

Netanyahu’s Likud reportedly agrees to transfer the hundreds of neighborhood facilities from Education Ministry to Interior, days after handing extremist MK some school programming

Shas chairman MK Aryeh Deri after coalition talks with Religious Zionist party head MK Bezalel Smotrich and Likud leader Benjamin Netanyahu outside a hotel in Jerusalem, December 5, 2022. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)
Shas chairman MK Aryeh Deri after coalition talks with Religious Zionist party head MK Bezalel Smotrich and Likud leader Benjamin Netanyahu outside a hotel in Jerusalem, December 5, 2022. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

Presumed incoming prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s Likud party has agreed to hand control of the nation’s community centers to the ultra-Orthodox Shas party amid tense coalition negotiations between the two sides, according to a Monday report.

Likud has agreed to transfer the Israel Association of Community Centers from the Education Ministry to the Interior Ministry, which Shas is expected to hold in the next government, the Globes business daily reported.

Shas leader Aryeh Deri seeks control of the community centers to exert more influence in the towns and cities where they’re located, particularly in the more outlying areas known as the periphery, the report said.

The centers, known as matnasim, are a staple in many communities, providing educational programs, youth activities and sports training.

The Israel Association of Community Centers says it operates over 700 community centers in over 150 municipalities.

Under the agreement, Shas would gain control over community center appointments, including its leadership, and the network’s yearly budget of NIS 850 million ($250 million), Globes reported, saying it had obtained a copy of the agreement between Likud and Shas.

Netanyahu’s party has also agreed to transfer some educational programming in schools to a new government agency helmed by MK Avi Maoz, the head of the homophobic Noam party. The move has caused an uproar and dozens of municipalities have vowed to oppose Maoz’s initiatives.

Presumed incoming prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu, seen after coalition talks with Shas chairman MK Aryeh Deri and Religious Zionist party head MK Bezalel Smotrich, outside a hotel in Jerusalem, December 5, 2022. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

Outgoing Education Minister Yifat Shasha-Biton blasted the community center agreement with Shas, saying, “The liquidation sale of the education ministry continues.”

“This farce comes at the expense of our children,” she said.

Deri and Netanyahu are locked in coalition negotiations as the Likud leader seeks to appease his political partners and consolidate his bloc as he approaches the December 11 deadline to form a government. He can request a two-week extension after that date to complete the process and is expected to do so.

With Netanyahu slated to sign coalition deals with three far-right and two ultra-Orthodox parties, right-wing stalwart Likud will find itself the left-most faction in Israel’s most hardline government yet.

Shas and the ultra-Orthodox United Torah Judaism party have not yet agreed to a coalition deal with Likud. On Monday Deri reportedly walked out of negotiations with Netanyahu, marking the second time in a week that the Shas leader clashed with Netanyahu during talks.

The parties in Netanyahu’s bloc managed to all cooperate on Monday to force a vote on a new Knesset speaker.

Replacing the speaker with a member of the bloc is an essential pre-condition for the coalition’s formation, since several of Netanyahu’s intended ministerial appointments and commitments to incoming coalition parties require changes to existing legislation, and the Knesset speaker exerts considerable control over the Knesset’s legislative schedule.

With the appointment of a new Knesset speaker next week, the incoming coalition will likely seek to pass a bill, reportedly demanded by Deri, that would enable him to be sworn in as a minister alongside the rest of the incoming government despite having been handed a suspended sentence for tax fraud earlier this year.

Likud said in a statement on Monday that there had been “significant progress” in forming a government, without elaborating.

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