And now for Shas
By Arieh Eldad, Ma’ariv, January 25, 2008
Cabinet Minister Avigdor Lieberman did not resign because the Israeli government has just now put the “core issues” on the table in its negotiations with the Palestinians. The minister for strategic affairs obviously knows that Olmert and Abu Mazen have not spent the past few months chit-chatting about rising real estate prices in Jerusalem. And Lieberman could not have resigned because the division of Jerusalem is now being negotiated, since he himself supports such division and it even appears in his party’s platform. He joined the government in order to prevent Netanyahu becoming prime minister and he left because of recent public opinion polls.
Lieberman’s red lines had nothing to do with Olmert’s proclamations but rather with the poll results he’s reading. Lieberman’s voters were not quick to abandon him. It took a strong media campaign to prove to them that they were supporting a leader who doesn’t keep his word and who cannot be relied on. And even though a good number of Lieberman’s voters wanted him to continue in the cabinet, tens of thousands of others were leaving him, and they tilted the scales. There’s a limit to how much a person is willing to pay to stop Bibi.
And now for Shas.
On the face of it, we face a more difficult problem. There seems to be no point in convincing Shas’s voters, or even its representatives in the Knesset, of anything since the decision is not in their hands: Shas presents itself to its voters as a party under the command of Rabbi Ovadia Yosef, and its members of Knesset do not exercise freedom of will or their ability to think rationally. The rabbi’s position on strategic matters is reached based on his assessment of the question of pikuach nefesh, a danger to life; on this basis Shas abstained in the fateful vote over the Oslo Accords, thus opening the gates of the country to Arafat and his gangs.
Unfortunately, fifteen hundred Jews have been murdered since then. The rabbi also ordered Shas to vote against holding a national referendum on the question of the withdrawal from Gaza. Arafat’s partners in Israel’s Knesset, along with people who wanted to uproot Jewish settlement in Gaza and northern Samaria, and those who are now attempting to establish a terrorist state in the heart of our country (and this terrorist state with its capital in Jerusalem), have long promised that surrendering to the Arabs will prevent further bloodshed. Twice Rabbi Ovadia Yosef has fallen into their trap. Will he fall for a third time and take with him the entire State of Israel?
Apparently, getting Shas out of the government will not be an easy matter. True, Shas party leaders and its apparatchiks who obey the rabbi’s orders know how to read polls, and not all of Shas’s voters want to blindly follow his political directives; if Shas stays in the government, it will lose half its supporters. Unlike Lieberman and some of his supporters, no one in Shas is ready to raise his hand against Jerusalem. But Olmert knows this, and so he’s promising Shas’s Minister Eli Yishai that the question of Jerusalem will arise only at the end of negotiations with Abu Mazen, and until such time Yishai should stay in the government and allow it to move forward on all the other issues: cessation of construction in Judea and Samaria, the immediate evacuation of outposts, uprooting all settlement in Judea and Samaria, and bringing Arab refugees into Israel – and Jerusalem will wait until the end. Olmert will make promises to Eli Yishai, and even take the trouble to visit Rabbi Yosef in order to show deference and “hold strategic consultations with him,” while he mocks the rabbi behind his back, having promised that he will direct the negotiations such that Shas’s image will not be that of “he whose hands have shed this blood.” And we cannot forget that Olmert has just promised Shas to rebuild the Ministry of Religious Affairs for the party; how will they be able to pass up this offer?
But Shas’s voters already know that Olmert’s government and his plans depend solely on them. (And though some Shas spokesmen will attempt to excuse their staying in the coalition on the grounds that if they leave, they will simply be replaced by Meretz and Agudat Israel – this excuse doesn’t hold water: bloodshed is bloodshed). Shas bears responsibility for bringing Arafat into Eretz Israel, and for all the blood that has been shed following the Oslo Accords. How can Shas voters and representatives now be partners to more crimes against the people and land of Israel?
It may be that the Shas voters are not yet fully aware of the implications of their being in the government, but they will be soon. Lieberman did not leave the government until his political power base was eroding. Shas will share this fate, as soon as a media campaign shines the light on them and on their leader, showing that they are aiding in the destruction of Israel. Lieberman was famous for being someone who stubbornly stuck to his position the more one attacked him, yet he was not willing to commit political suicide. Stuck between the rock of Rabbi Ovadia Yosef’s Torah-based rulings and the hard place of public criticism of the party and its leader, we can assume Shas will also choose not to commit suicide, either in obeisance to a Torah ruling or in fear of the electorate.
If Shas does choose to remain in the government following publication of the Winograd Report, and if it thereby allows Olmert to lead the state to its destruction, the party will find that it, too, has destructed. When guessing what Shas will do, however, it would be well to remember that even if the rabbi doesn’t read public opinion polls, Eli Yishai does.