Shas Sages Decide: 'Shimon Peres for President'

The Shas Party's Council of Torah Sages has ordered its 12 Knesset Members to support Vice Premier Shimon Peres for president.

Hana Levi Julian ,

The Council of Torah Sages leading the Sephardic religious Shas Party decided Thursday night, in a unanimous vote, to throw its support behind Kadima’s Vice Premier Shimon Peres in his run to become the next president of Israel.

The party’s spiritual leader, former Chief Sephardic Rabbi Ovadia Yosef, is joined on the Council by three other rabbis: Rabbis Shalom Cohen, Shimon Baadani and Moshe Maya. The latter two were unable to appear in person and voted instead by phone. The Shas Party Chairman and Minister of Industry and Trade, Eli Yishai, and cabinet minister Ariel Atlas were also present.

Rabbi Yosef had been pressured by various people in recent days to support Peres's main opponent in the race, ex-Knesset Speaker Reuven (Ruby) Rivlin, who is also a close friend of the party leadership. The statement issued by the Council following the meeting reflected the dilemma:

“The High Council has decided to support the Vice Premier. We instruct all Shas faction MKs to vote for Mr. Shimon Peres as president of the state and we wish him luck in his position for the State of Israel. We also honor and respect our dear friend Reuven Rivlin and appreciate him, and wish for him to rise upwards and upwards.”

That honor and respect does not extend to choosing him as president, however.

Sources said that several Shas MKs have quietly expressed their intent to vote according to their conscience, and not necessarily with the party line. “At the end of the day,” said one, who asked not to be named, “the vote is carried out by secret ballot. I will do what I have to do, and so will others.”

Many hareidi-religious communities are fiercely opposed to any support for Mr. Peres. A group called “The Committee for Jewish Holiness” has plastered hareidi religious neighborhoods in numerous communities with posters listing anti-Jewish statements made by Mr. Peres in the past.

A list of those, plus several others, includes:

- “The economic and social situation in Israel is outstanding.” (Israel Radio interview, March 17, 2007)

- [Prime Minister Ehud Olmert is] “one of the best prime ministers that there has been.” (Israel Radio interview, March 17, 2007)

- “We see eye to eye with [Palestinian Authority Chairman and Fatah leader Mahmoud] Abbas, because he is really for peace…” (Media With Conscience interview, January 31, 2007)

- “What King David did was not Jewish." (Yediot Acharonot, February 15, 1994)

- “I believe it is fitting that the [Nobel Peace] prize has been awarded to [PLO Chairman and arch terrorist] Yasser Arafat. His quitting the path of confrontation in favor of the path of dialogue has opened the way to peace between ourselves and the Palestinian people…” (Speech upon accepting the Nobel Peace Prize, Oslo, December 10, 1994)

- “The rabbis are deceivers.” (Yediot Acharonot, April 15, 1990)

- “There is nothing to be proud of in Jewish history.” (UNESCO conference 1990)

Thursday night's statement of support for Mr. Pers by the Shas Council of Torah Sages included a line that said the party’s rabbinical leadership had chosen Mr. Peres for his “contributions to Judaism.”