Shas (ש״ס) is a political party in Israel, primarily representing Haredi Sephardi and Mizrahi Judaism. Following the 2006 elections in which Shas won 12 seats, it joined Ehud Olmert's coalition government and holds four cabinet posts. Its current leader, Eli Yishai, is one of four deputy prime ministers.
Shas was founded in 1984 prior to the elections
in the same year, through the merger of regional lists established in 1983 and was originally known as The Worldwide Sephardic Association of Torah Keepers
(התאחדות הספרדים העולמית שומרי תורה, Hitahdut HaSfaradim HaOlamit Shomrei Torah
). The party was formed under the leadership of Rabbi Ovadia Yosef
(a former Israeli Chief rabbi
), who remains its spiritual leader today. In founding the party, Yosef received strategic help and guidance from Rabbi Elazar Shach
, the leader of Israel's non-Hasidic Haredi Ashkenazi Jews
(known as the "Mitnagdim
" by some.)
The party was mired in scandal after the indictment and subsequent conviction and imprisonment of its former party leader, Aryeh Deri, on corruption charges in 1999. While Yosef distanced the party from Deri and installed Yishai as the new party head, many Shas voters saw Deri as the victim of a discriminatory political witch-hunt and continue to support him.
Following Deri's conviction, Shas gained 17 seats in the 1999 elections, its strongest showing since its formation. Although 26 seats were projected for the following election had they run in 2001, instead Shas was reduced to 11 seats in the 2003 election because the two-ballot system was amended. In the 2006 elections it gained one more seat and joined Ehud Olmert's coalition government, alongside Kadima, Labor, Gil and between October 2006 and January 2008, Yisrael Beiteinu. In the current government, Shas party leader Yishai is Minister of Industry, Trade and Labor, and Deputy Prime Minister whilst Ariel Atias is Minister of Communications, and Meshulam Nahari and Yitzhak Cohen are Ministers without Portfolio.
Shas is a strong advocate of Halakha
playing a pivotal role and providing a fulcrum for the operation of the state and its identity, such as laws prohibiting various activities on the Shabbat
. Shas has a socially conservative agenda, while also supporting generous welfare payments, especially for yeshiva students, as well as supporting the Baal Teshuva
movement, through which it has encouraged many non-Orthodox
Israelis of Sephardic
-Jewish heritage to adopt an ultra-Orthodox Jewish
lifestyle. Its policy regarding the Israeli Arab conflict
has been relatively flexible, although it generally supports the Greater Israel
consolidation movement united under the crown of the Mizrahi Torah, in accordance to HaMaran
Rabbi Ovadia Yosef
's flexible foreign policy derivatives. They have never taken active measures to support the Gush Emunim
movement and do not strongly favor the Israeli settlements
, on which they are closer in policy to Agudat Yisrael
than the Tkuma
or Jewish National Front
. Futhermore, it is also skeptical about Non-Observant Ashkenazi Jews
being at the helm of State affairs, due to principly the 'assumed' discrimination by Ashkenazi Jews
Jews in the early days of Israel
's Statehood, as well as opposing their non-Torah idealogy.
Shas has at times been able to exert disproportionate influence by gaining control of the balance of power in the Knesset within the context of the traditionally narrow margin between Israel's large parties, Labor and Likud, now joined by Kadima.
The majority of Shas voters are themselves not ultra-orthodox. Many of its voters are Modern Orthodox and 'traditional' Mizrahi and Sephardi Jews. Some Druze also vote for Shas, due to its alignment with the promotion of an 'authentic Middle Eastern' Israeli culture, which fits well with traditional Zionist beliefs of a revival of authentic Jewish culture. However, they are still representing, by principle and not practice, their Sephardi and Mizrahi Haredi Jewish Sectors in the Knesset.
Since 1999, several of Shas's MKs, including Aryeh Deri
, Rafael Pinhasi
, Yair Lev
, Ofer Hugi
and Yair Peretz
have been convicted of offences including fraud and forgery. In addition, elected MK Shlomo Benizri
was convicted of bribery, conspiring to commit a crime and obstruction of justice on 1 April 2008. Benizri subsequently resigned and Mazor Bahaina
, number thirteen on the Shas list, replaced him.
Current Knesset members
Twelve Shas candidates were elected to the 17th Knesset:
- Eli Yishai
- Yitzhak Cohen
- Amnon Cohen
- Meshulam Nahari
- Ariel Atias
- Shlomo Benizri (replaced by Mazor Bahaina in May 2008)
- David Azulai
- Yitzhak Vaknin
- Nissim Ze'ev
- Ya'akov Margi
- Emil Amsalem
- Avraham Michaeli