Shas head MK Aryeh Deri and former Shas leader Eli Yishai continue to battle behind the scenes and in the press, as rumors of Yishai's return to Shas swirl.
Amid an explosive report last week that Shas' Council of Torah Sages is considering deposing Deri and bringing in Yishai to reverse the party's declining electoral fortunes, Deri lashed out at Yishai in an interview with Yediot Ahronot, claiming that his nemesis planned to run with the Likud party in the next elections and accusing Yishai of rebelling against Shas' spiritual leadership.
"He will not return to Shas," attacked Deri. "He broke all the rules. In Shas, everything can be forgiven other than attacking the Council of Torah Sages. Eli Yishai rebelled against the Council of Torah Sages."
The Council of Torah Sages is the rabbinical group that is the Shas.advisory institution Previously headed by former Israeli chief rabbi and co-founder of the Shas Rabbi Ovadiah Yosef, it is today headed by Yeshiva Dean Rabbi Shalom Cohen.
Yishai responded shortly after by accusing Deri of intentionally working to destroy Shas. "I try to avoid talking about Deri and his endless efforts to end the Shas party," said Yishai. "It hurts me to witness how Deri is finishing off the party which Maran (Rabbi Ovadiah Yosef) founded and it hurts me to see how Deri's career of public service is over".
"It makes sense that Deri will look for the guilty party in light of his party's dive in the polls. They should first look at themselves," added Yishai.
Recent polls have shown that Shas is in dire straits, with a poll last month showing that Shas would not pass the electoral threshold if elections were held today.
Shas' decline from the 17 seats it won in 1999 has been attributed to several factors, including the death of party founder and Sephardic icon Rabbi Ovadiah Yosef and the ongoing police investigations of party leader Aryeh Deri and his wife for alleged money laundering, fraud, breach of trust, theft, fraudulent registration, numerous tax offenses, and corruption.
Reports have been swirling that Shas' leadership has been holding secret talks with deposed leader Eli Yishai regarding his potential return to the party, should current leader Aryeh Deri be indicted.
Last week, Yisrael Hayom reported that a meeting was recently held between Eli Yishai and one of the rabbis of the Council of Torah Sages examining the possibility of uniting Shas with Eli Yishai's Yahad party. According to the proposal, Shas and Yahad would run on a join slate yet become separate factions after entering the Knesset, as the Zionist Union and Tekumah parties did.
Yishai split off from Shas after he was deposed by current head Aryeh Deri. 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. Yishai has to decide whether to try again as a separate party or run together with Shas to help both get into the next Knesset.