In a dramatic new twist, former Shas chairperson Eli Yishai has apparently received the blessings of hareidi leader Rabbi Aharon Shteinman to split off from Shas and form his own party, likely with Tekuma faction head Uri Ariel who would split from Jewish Home.
Yishai visited Rabbi Shteinman's home in Bnei Brak late Friday morning, with sources close to Yishai telling Arutz Sheva the meeting "was good," and "the possibility to form a new party was placed on the table with full force."
The sources added that Yishai will apparently leave Shas early next week after a Sunday meeting with chairperson Aryeh Deri, emphasizing "he is doing everything according to the opinion of the Torah" - an indication that Rabbi Shteinman gave his blessings to the move.
Another source close to Yishai added that he clarified to Rabbi Shteinman that the party he will form will not harm Shas, as it will not focus on attracting hareidi voters, a statement which provides further evidence to indications Yishai intends to form a party with Ariel catering to 'hardal' Jews, a reference to those in the hareidi and religious Zionist camps.
The source said directly that Yishai intends to form a party with Ariel or by himself, with the assumption being that Ariel will join him after a falling out with Jewish Home's Naftali Bennett around an ideological divide and differences over whether or not to hold primaries.
In Rabbi Shteinman's home, it was stated that the rabbi blessed Yishai and wished him success, but did not give him explicit instructions to split off from Shas.
Tensions between Deri and Yishai have been growing rapidly; the two have been rivals since Deri returned to politics taking back leadership a year-and-a-half ago after a stint in jail for corruption, during which time Yishai took over the reins of the party. The two are divided in terms of outlook, with Yishai being considered right-wing and Deri leaning increasingly leftward.
Deri was revealed on Friday to have said in closed conversations the night before "I don't need him (Yishai), he just bothers me. We offered him what we offered him out of mercy."
The talk of offerings refers to a number two spot on the list, which Yishai has countered by demanding some actual authorities in leading the party. Deir has further placed heavy demands on Yishai for being able to stay in Shas, including not giving interviews without Deri's permission.
Yishai will not be alone if he leaves Shas; two key rabbis Rabbi Meir Mazuz, dean of Yeshiva Kisei Rachamim, and Yeshiva Nahar Shalom dean Rabbi Benayahu Shmueli, warned they would withdraw their support from the movement as well if Yishai goes.
Polls have indicated that Yishai would get five seats if he ran alone. A recent poll shows that if Yishai and Ariel form a new party it would do well, gaining seven seats together.
Jewish Home sources spoke of the potential split in their party, with one senior source saying "it will be OK," even as another said "the crisis with Ariel seems serious." A source close to Ariel said of the Sunday meeting with Bennet "we'll go to the meeting and see what will be."