After Shas, Likud, & Jewish Home: Amsalem announces Knesset bid

Former MK Haim Amsalem announces plans to run for Knesset with his Am Shalem party, after leaving Shas, Likud, and the Jewish Home.

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David Rosenberg,

Rabbi Haim Amsalem
Rabbi Haim Amsalem
Flash 90

Former MK and founder of the Am Shalem movement Rabbi Haim Amsalem is looking to return to the Knesset, five years after his party failed to cross the electoral threshold.

Twice elected to the Knesset as part of the Shas party, Rabbi Amsalem bolted Shas, claiming that the haredi party had taken “extreme” positions on issues relating to the relationship between religion and state, army service for haredi men, higher education for the haredi sector, and state conversions to Judaism.

Calling for a return to what he called the “tradition of moderation” in the Sephardi religious community, Amsalem formed the “Am Shalem” (Whole People) movement, and ran for Knesset on the Am Shalem list in January 2013.

The new faction received less than 46,000 votes, or roughly 1.2% of the 3.83 million ballots cast, failing to pass the 2.0% minimum electoral threshold.

Amsalem briefly joined the Likud party, before becoming a member of the Jewish Home party.

In November 2017, however, Amsalem left the Jewish Home, claiming that party leaders had treated his movement with condescension, disregard, and a cold shoulder.”

"We came with the intention of 'restoring the crown to its former glory' (changing the context of late Chief Rabbi Ovadia Yosef's expression for outreach to Sephardic non-observant Israelis to his own goals ed.), returning the Sephardim to the course from which they've strayed in recent years. Returning to the path of Zionism, Torah and IDF service as a sacred value, defining Jewish identity, moderation and tolerance, and other values we have been fighting for all these years," Amsalem said.

"For our part, we tried to advance the ideas of our movement within the framework of the Jewish Home, but after two years we have realized that the possibility of working for our goals is only feasible within the framework of an independent party."

On Saturday night, Rabbi Amsalem announced that he would run again for the Knesset at the head of the Am Shalem party in the next election cycle. A new Knesset election must be held no later than November 2019.

Speaking at a memorial event marking the 137th anniversary of the passing of Rabbi Yaakov Abuhatzeira, Rabbi Amsalem said supporters had been pushing him to run again as an independent.

“Everyone has been hinting to me and nudging me, asking me what I’m doing,” being politically inactive, “so I’m telling you all now that, God-willing, we will be ready for the next election.”

While Amsalem came relatively close to passing the 2.0% electoral threshold in 2013, he now faces a 3.25% threshold for entering the Knesset – more than two points higher than the 1.2% his party received in 2013.

Recently, former Shas chief Eli Yishai, who bolted the party ahead of the 2015 election and ran on the Yahad list, announced he would run on the Yahad list in the next election.

In 2015, Yahad ran on a joint list with the Otzma Yehudit party, led by former Kach party activists including one-time National Union MK Michael Ben-Ari and Baruch Marzel, as well as attorney Itamar Ben-Gvir.

While most polls showed Yahad crossing the 3.25% minimum electoral threshold required to enter the Knesset, the party came up short, receiving 125,158 votes, or about 2.97% of all valid ballots and about 13,000 short of the threshold.

Other reports indicate, however, Yishai may be returning to Shas, amid negotiations between the spiritual leaders of the two factions.