Veteran Shas MK Eli 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 Sunday night.
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.
Yishai’s move followed days of speculation that the long-time Shas member would join ranks with Housing Minister Uri Ariel and form a new party.
It remains unclear whether Ariel will team up with Yishai. The Jewish Home Knesset member was set to meet with party head Naftali Bennett on Sunday evening, in what some believed was a last effort to convince Ariel — the head of the Tekumah faction — to remain in the right-wing party.
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.
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.
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.