Head of the Am Shalem (Whole Nation) party, former Shas MK Rabbi Haim Amsalem, has said that Rabbi Ovadia Yosef was the last of the true Sephardic rabbis, with no replacement able to attract the same level of support.
In an interview with Arutz Sheva he said, "I knew him for tens of years, we've lost a giant figure in Israel, who has left a huge vacuum behind him," adding "he has no replacement in terms of his halachic (Jewish law) prowess. He was the last of the true sephardic rabbis"
He said Shas had now become a hareidi party just like any other, with no connection to the tradition of Sephardic Jews.
Rabbi Haim Amsalem was elected as a Shas MK in the elections of 2006 and 2009 but then split from the party to set up the Am Shalem party ahead of the 2013 elections. As opposed to Shas, he supported hareidim joining the IDF and also encouraged more of a balance between Torah studies and earning a livelihood. Shas, along with other hareidi parties, advocates full time Torah studies for men and is opposed to students serving in the army.
He added: "the reason I left the Shas party is because the way of the Shas leadership of today is to create a carbon copy of the Lithuanian Ashkenazic world, which is not appropriate for Sephardic Jews."
"The authentic Sephardic way is to be a flag-bearer of the ideal of Torah lived alongside making a living," Amsalem said, adding, that "the original Sephardic rabbis were Zionist."
He predicted that Shas would not be able to repeat its previous successes in future elections.
"Rav Ovadia had an amazing ability to be a magnet for votes, to draw votes from a wide section of society, including traditional Jews and National Religious. They saw in him a figure they could relate to, but now, we have seen the end of a chapter in the Shas Party – in this way, its role has ended."
"Today, Shas is an extremist hareidi party that is anti-Zionist, who will vote for it except for hareidim?" he asked.
Amsalem also confirmed to Arutz Sheva that he had recently held private conversations with Naftali Bennett, head of the Jewish Home (Bayit Yehudi) party and said "we see eye to eye on many issues. There are also differences of opinion, but everyone understood that it was a mistake not to run together in the previous elections."
He claimed a joint list with Bayit Yehudi could have reached 15 mandates.
In the last elections Bayit Yehudi secured 345,985 votes, equal to 9.12% of votes and 12 Knesset seats, meanwhile Am Shalem was the second largest party to miss out on the 2% electoral thershold with 45,690 votes, gaining 1.2% of ballots