Eli Yishai
Eli YishaiEdi Israel/Flash 90

Senior haredi Sephardic rabbis are pushing former Interior Minister and Yahad party chairman Eli Yishai to launch a bid for mayor of Jerusalem in the upcoming local elections, scheduled for October.

Yishai, who served as a Shas MK for two decades, and led the party following his predecessor Aryeh Deri’s conviction on corruption charges, split from Shas ahead of election for the 20th Knesset in 2015. Yishai founded the “Yahad” (Together) party, which ran on a joint list with the right-wing Otzmah Yehudit faction, but narrowly missed the 3.25% minimum threshold required for entry to the Knesset.

Since his departure, Yishai has been the subject of rumors suggesting he could return to Shas, either to replace Deri, who rejoined the party in 2013, or as chairman of Yahad in a joint list with Shas.

Shas, which once held 17 seats, fell from the 11 mandates it won in 2013 to just 7 in the 2015 election – its poorest showing since 1992. The party’s poor showing was blamed largely on the split with Yishai, whose party won the equivalent of three-and-a-half seats’ worth of votes.

Recent polls show Shas is in danger of failing to pass the 3.25% threshold – potentially leaving Shas out of the Knesset for the first time since it was formed in 1984.

According to a report by Israel Hayom, some leaders of the Sephardic haredi community are concerned Yishai’s Yahad party could harm Shas’ electoral prospects not only in the next Knesset election, currently scheduled for November 2019, but also in this year’s municipal elections.

To end the rivalry between Yahad and Shas, a new initiative is aimed at drawing Yishai, a resident of Jerusalem’s Har Nof neighborhood, into this October’s race for Jerusalem mayor as part of the Shas party. Those backing the move believe Yishai could win the race – delivering a much-needed win to Shas – and would stop the hemorrhaging of votes from Shas to Yahad.

Senior Shas officials said they had heard plans regarding efforts to launch a bid by Yishai in the Jerusalem mayoral race, but emphasized that no official announcement had been made.

Yishai has denied similar claims in the past, and last year announced plans to run for the Knesset at the head of the Yahad party.