Shas lawmakers oppose plan to merge with UTJ

Shas MKs say initiative to run together with their Ashkenazic counterparts would destroy Shas' unique identity, pledge to oppose the move.

Tzvi Lev ,

Shas MKs at a meeting
Shas MKs at a meeting
Yonatan Sindel/Flash90

A number of Shas lawmakers have come out in opposition to an initiative that would see them unite with their Ashkenazic counterparts in order to cross the electoral threshold.

Reports on Wednesday said that Shas and UTJ are considering merging into one party, with the rabbinic leadership of UTJ supporting the merger to ensure that Shas would not be left out of the upcoming Knesset.

Some Shas MKs have now come out against the move, however, saying that uniting with UTJ would water down Shas' identity as representatives of the Sephardic haredi community.

"We (Shas) are paying in the polls for turning mainly to Torah learners and not addressing the rest of the community, so a united struggle will cause both a blurred identity and for voters to escape," MK Yaakov Margi told Behadrei Haredim.

"What the council of sages will say and decide will be accepted, but if they ask my opinion I will recommend opposing the move."

Another Shas MK added that "a united haredi party is the last nail in the coffin of the Sephardi party. If the leaders of the movement declare that there is no problem walking with 'Degel' and 'Agudah', then we will not have the mandate to go back later and run separately."

The lawmaker was referring to the hasidic Agudat Yisrael faction and the non-hasidic Degel Hatorah faction that make up the UTJ. The two separate Ashkenazic-haredi parties first joined together prior to the 1992 elections. The competing factions have not always agreed on policy matters and ran as separate lists in 2004 before reuniting in 2006.

The three haredi parties in the Knesset – Shas, Agudat Yisrael, and Degel Hatorah – have reportedly been holding contacts in recent days on running together in the April elections. According to Hadashot TV, the initiative is being led by a group of rabbis seeking to determine that in the elections there will be one ballot at the polling stations that will include Shas and United Torah Judaism, with its two parts: Agudat Yisrael and Degel Hatorah.

The initiative became serious after it received the blessing of Rabbi Chaim Kanievsky, the spiritual leader of Degel Hatorah. Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu is ready to mediate between the sides in an attempt to secure a stable right-wing bloc.