MK Yitzhak Cohen
MK Yitzhak CohenFlash 90

Is Shas a left-wing or a right-wing party? MK Yitzhak Cohen told IDF Radio Thursday it is neither.

The interview with Cohen follows the recent declaration by Shas Chairman MK Aryeh Deri that his party endorses MK Yitzhak Herzog, the head of the Labor party, for Israel's next prime minister.

"There is no right and no left in Shas,” Cohen said, adding that his party has its own “priorities.”

"We take care of our own interests first. Shas is connected to the Council of Torah Sages. We will do as we are instructed to do. As for Shas's position on vacating settlements – it is as Maran [Rabbi Ovadia Yosef ztz”l] wrote in [his book] Yabi'a Omer: 'In exchange for true peace it is permissible to hand over territories.'"

Cohen immediately added, however, that “this is not the situation today,” i.e. – no “true peace” is being offered to Israel.

The veteran MK also said that the large hareidi communities in Judea and Samaria are located in places that are not at the focus of diplomatic controversy. “The hareidi settlements are inside the large blocs that are within consensus,” he argued.

Cohen blamed Israeli nationalists for being untrue to their own cause. “The uprootings and the worst steps against the Right were carried out by right-wing leaders,” he noted.

Shas siding with the left?

Shas under Deri is often blamed by nationalists for enabling the Oslo Accords by failing to leave the government of Yitzhak Rabin when it first brought them to a vote in the Knesset. It is also blamed for enabling the Disengagement from Gaza in 2005. Despite this, hareidi parties, including Shas, had been considered part of the nationalist bloc in the Knesset for decades. Whether this is still true is debatable: the decision by the ruling Likud to join forces with religious Zionist Jewish Home and secularist Yesh Atid has left the hareidim bitter and angry.

MK Yitzhak Vaknin of Shas launched a scathing attack on the Jewish Home, accusing its members of hatred towards hareidim, ahead of the vote on the Enlistment Law which will see hareidi yeshiva students drafted into the army.

After the next elections, warned Vaknin, Shas will not hesitate to join a coalition headed by the Labor party.

"In politics everything’s possible. I remind everyone that the National Religious Party itself sat in a coalition with Yitzhak Rabin and the Arabs,” he said, adding that Shas views Herzog as better than Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu.

Like Cohen, Vaknin said: “It is the right that has always conceded land, both Bibi and Sharon.

Deri for or against "settlements"?

Deri has threatened to support territorial concessions in revenge for the Enlistment Law. "Those who want the National Referendum Law in order to have a cover for staying in the government even during peace talks, should understand that the result of a referendum after the treason, after they sold the hareidi public to achieve their goals; they should know that they won't necessarily get the hareidi public in a referendum, possibly the opposite," warned Deri.

However, he has also called for supporting industries based in Judea and Samaria, as a response to EU threats of boycotts: "In light of the attempts to boycott products from Judea and Samaria and prevent funding and scholarships from our fellow Jews living in certain parts of the Land of Israel, and especially now with recent mass layoffs, I chose to buy ‘blue and white’ olive oil for Hanukkah in the Jewish community of Shilo,” said Deri.