Shas leader Aryeh Deri indicated Tuesday at a party gathering that he was likely to recommend that Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu form the next government following the March 17 election.
“Bibi,” he said, referring to the prime minister by his nickname, “we’re with you. We want to be with you. We want you to be prime minister.”
But Deri, speaking at Tel Aviv’s Nokia Arena to thousands of party loyalists, said Shas needed Netanyahu to act like late Likud prime minister Menachem Begin — well regarded in traditional Sephardic circles — rather than secularist Yesh Atid head Yair Lapid, seen by Shas’s low-income base as aloof and elitist.
“We want you as Bibi-Begin, not Bibi-Lapid,” he quipped.
Polls published Tuesday gave the Zionist Union a 2-3 seat lead over the Likud party with only two weeks remaining before the elections.
Shas, meanwhile, is predicted to win 6-7 seats.
The findings show Zionist Union’s Isaac Herzog with a better prospect than in most previous polls to build a coalition, though both he and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu would face complex negotiations to build a stable majority.
In February, Deri announced that Shas will seek to pass a “rich tax” on the wealthiest Israelis to help fund increased welfare programs for the country’s poorest. The party will also look to narrow the income and employment gaps between Ashkenazi Jews of European descent and Mizrahi Jews of Middle Eastern and African descent.
The party would work for “transparent” Israelis, the poor and disadvantaged, Deri said.
Deri also called for improving the social standing of Israelis of Mizrahi origins.
The party has historically counted Mizrahi Jews as its voter base, and has campaigned on bread-and-butter welfare issues that cater to the community, many of whose members fall below the poverty line.
“You can see that there aren’t enough Mizrahi judges, and Mizrahi [university] lecturers,” he declared. “Today, only in the prisons are there more Mizrahi people than Ashkenazi.”
Deri’s plans include raising taxes on high incomes, luxury dwellings, and securities markets, and lowering the tax breaks given to large companies as a means of encouraging investment. He promised to cancel the value-added tax on basic grocery goods and household items.
He also vowed that any new housing construction would have a certain percentage, as high as 7.5%, set aside for public housing for the poor.
Shas has been hurt in the polls by the creation of the rival Yachad party by former faction head Eli Yishai, who also claims Yosef as a spiritual guide.
Stuart Winer contributed to this report.