Shas will most likely remain in opposition, says Yishai

As coalition talks begin, ultra-Orthodox leader warns centrist Lapid’s reforms will fail and his Yesh Atid party will be ‘relegated to the archives’

Yifa Yaakov is a breaking news editor at The Times of Israel.

Eli Yishai (photo credit: Yoav Ari Dudkevitch/Flash90)
Eli Yishai (photo credit: Yoav Ari Dudkevitch/Flash90)

Shas would prefer to remain an opposition party rather than enter a coalition with Yair Lapid, party chairman Eli Yishai said Saturday in an interview with Channel 2.

Yishai, one of the heads of the ultra-Orthodox Sephardic party, who served as Interior Minister in the previous government, said he could see that Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu preferred Lapid’s Yesh Atid party to Shas, meaning there was a high likelihood that Shas, which won 11 seats in last month’s elections, would remain in the opposition for the first time in a decade.

“I believe Netanyahu prefers [Lapid],” he said. “I believe there is a 30 percent chance we will be in [the coalition] and a 70 percent chance we won’t be.”

Yishai harshly criticized Lapid, saying that, as a journalist-turned-political figure, Lapid did not yet understand “the difference between a politician and a leader.”

He added that Lapid’s plans to obligate ultra-Orthodox youths to complete military or national service would end in failure, warning that Lapid’s party would probably end up in the “archives of the Knesset,” like other centrist parties.

“I don’t see a way and a possibility to conscript the Orthodox by force,” said Yishai, adding that the change would have to be gradual rather than instantaneous.

“Lapid wants a reform in one day,” he said, warning that Jewish Home party leader Naftali Bennett, with whom Lapid has been holding talks, would also object to such over-hasty reforms.

Yishai said that the idea that the ultra-Orthodox did not contribute to Israel’s military or society was a misconception. “There are thousands of ultra-Orthodox in the army,” he said, adding that he himself had enlisted in the IDF despite his ultra-Orthodox background.

“There are thousands of ultra-Orthodox youths who want to join either national service or the ultra-Orthodox battalion of the IDF,” said Yishai. He said he would be willing to support Netanyahu’s coalition, on the condition that it would pass a law enabling the ultra-Orthodox to join the military, complete national service and attend universities in a gradual manner.

Yishai added that the relevant legislation would have to “protect Jewish law,” as it had enabled the Jewish people to survive while other nations had perished.

“There is life after the coalition,” he concluded. “We don’t want offices, we don’t want ministers, we don’t want a rift among the people.”

Shas’s last stint in the opposition occurred in 2003, when then-Likud leader and prime minister Ariel Sharon opted to leave the party out of his coalition.

The main bone of contention between Shas and Yesh Atid is the issue of equality in national service. Lapid, who won 19 seats in last month’s elections, promised voters he would fight to ease the burden carried by the mostly secular middle class, which serves in the military and struggles with the high cost of living. Lapid said he would strive to integrate yeshiva students, most of whom are currently exempt from military and national service, into the military and open other avenues of national service to them.

Coalition talks officially began on Saturday evening, after President Shimon Peres gave Netanyahu the task of forming the next government.

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