Shas (Hebrew: ש״ס, an acronym for שומרי ספרד Shomrei
Sfarad, lit., "(Religious) Guardians of the Sephardim") is an
ultra-Orthodox religious political party in Israel. Founded in 1984
under the leadership of
Rabbi Ovadia Yosef, a former Israeli Sephardi
chief rabbi, who remained its spiritual leader until his death in
October 2013, it primarily represents the interests of Haredi
Originally a small ethnic political group,
Shas is currently Israel's
seventh-largest party in the Knesset. Since 1984, it has almost always
formed a part of the governing coalition, whether the ruling party was
Labor or Likud. As of 2017,
Shas members currently sit with
4 Women's campaign
7 External links
Aryeh Deri, chairman of Shas
Shas was founded in 1984 prior to the elections to the eleventh
Knesset in the same year, in protest over the small representation of
Sephardim in the largely Ashkenazi Agudat Yisrael, through the
merger of regional lists established in 1983. It was originally known
as Worldwide Sephardic Association of Torah Guardians (Hebrew:
התאחדות הספרדים העולמית שומרי תורה,
Hitahdut ha-Sfaradim ha-Olamit Shomrey Tora). The party was formed
under the leadership of former Israeli Chief Sephardi
Yosef, who established a four-member (including himself) Council of
Torah Sages and remained the party's spiritual leader until his death.
In founding the party, Yosef received strategic help and guidance from
Rabbi Elazar Shach, leader of Israel's non-
Hasidic Haredi Ashkenazi
Jews. Yosef founded the party in 1984 on the platform of a return
to religion, and as a counter to an establishment dominated by
Ashkenazi Jews of European extraction.
Political poster for Shas,
featuring Eli Yishai.
Shas voters are themselves ultra-Orthodox. Many of its voters
are Modern Orthodox and "traditional"
Mizrahi and Sephardi Jews, due
to its alignment with the promotion of an "authentic Middle Eastern"
Israeli culture, which fits with traditional
Zionist beliefs of a
revival of authentic, non-Europeanized Jewish culture. However, it
still represents the Sephardi and
Mizrahi Haredi Jewish sectors in the
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. Like its Labor
Zionist counterparts (i. e., Labor and
Meretz) that gain votes from the kibbutz movement,
Shas gains votes
and supports from moshavim that are inhabited by
Mizrahi and Sephardi
Jews, either Orthodox or non-Orthodox. Also, since it became a member
Zionist Organization, it gains votes from Orthodox settlers
in the West Bank.
Since 1999, the three cities where
Shas garners the most votes are
El'ad, Netivot, and Yarka.
In the elections to the eleventh
Knesset in 1984,
Shas won four
seats. Following Aryeh Deri's conviction on corruption charges in
Shas gained 17 seats in the 1999 elections, its strongest
showing since its formation. Although 26 seats were projected for the
following election had it run in 2001,
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 after running what the
BBC called "an aggressive campaign that targeted the neo-conservative
economic policies of the previous government", and joined Ehud
Olmert's coalition government, alongside Kadima, Labor, Gil, and,
between October 2006 and January 2008, Yisrael Beiteinu. In the
Shas party leader Yishai was minister of industry, trade,
and labor, and deputy prime minister, while
Ariel Atias was minister
of communications, and
Meshulam Nahari and
Yitzhak Cohen were
ministers without portfolio.
Following the 2009 elections, in which
Shas won eleven seats, it
joined Benjamin Netanyahu's coalition government and held four cabinet
posts. Eli Yishai, who led the party at that time, was one of four
deputy prime ministers, and minister of internal affairs.
On 4 December 2011,
Shas launched its United States affiliate,
American Friends of Shas, based in Brooklyn, New York.
Shas won 11 seats in the 2013 elections, but chose to form part of
the Labor opposition to Netanyahu's new government.
Yair Lapid of the
Yesh Atid party and
Naftali Bennett of The Jewish Home, who had won
more seats and joined the coalition, both favored conscription of the
previously exempt Haredi men into Israel's national service and a
reduction in state financial support for Haredi families, policies
In December 2014,
Eli Yishai left the
Shas party, which he had led for
more than a decade. He said he would lead a new religious party in the
election scheduled for March 2015. His departure from
Shas and Aryeh
Deri did not come as a surprise. The party that he formed, Yachad,
failed to pass the election threshold.
In the 2015 elections,
Shas was accused of tampering with the ballots
of Yachad. They were also accused of creating a straw party with
the symbols of Otzma Yehudit, which was running on list with Yachad
during the election. During the 2015 election,
Shas won 7
In 2017, opinion polling showed that
Shas was falling under the
election threshold of 3.25%. In response,
Shas leader said that
there was a coup attempt in the party. In the same year a tape was
leaked of the parties former spiritual leader, criticizing current
Rabbi Shlomo Amar.
Ovadiah Yosef, spiritual leader of Shas
The stated purpose of the party is to "return the crown to the former
glory", and to rectify what it sees as the "continued economic and
social discrimination against the Sephardic population of Israel".
Focusing on the needs of Sephardic Orthodox Israelis,
its own government-funded education system called MaAyan HaHinuch
HaTorani, which became popular in poor Sephardic towns, increasing the
party's popular support.
Shas advocates for the increased influence
of Halakha, the Jewish religious law, in Israeli society, and actively
engages in the Baal teshuva movement, encouraging non-Orthodox
Israelis of Sephardic and Mizrahi-Jewish heritage to adopt an Orthodox
Shas is a Haredi religious party, but it has participated in left-wing
governments, and is often willing to compromise on both religious and
Shas followed a moderate policy on the Israeli–Palestinian
conflict, after Yosef had declared that lives were more important than
territories, but has since moved to the right, and opposes any
Israeli settlement activity in the West Bank. In
addition, it was skeptical towards the U.S. Obama Administration's
intentions regarding the Israeli–Palestinian peace process, and has
begun to support a consolidation of
Israeli settlement interests,
especially regarding yeshivas and Jewish holy sites in the West Bank.
It further believes in a "United Jerusalem", and supports the Greater
Jerusalem plan.[clarification needed] In 2010,
Shas joined the World
Zionist Organisation, having made significant changes to its
One of Shas's demands is a compensation package for Sephardi and
Mizrahi Jews who were forced to flee their home countries and leave
their property behind.
Shas opposes any form of public expression of homosexuality, including
Gay Pride parades, especially in Jerusalem.
Shas MK Nissim Ze'ev
accused the homosexual community of "carrying out the self-destruction
of Israeli society and the Jewish people", calling homosexuals "a
plague as toxic as bird flu". However, the party officially
condemns any form of violence against
Shas MKs, including Aryeh Deri, Rafael Pinhasi, Yair Levy,
Ofer Hugi, and Yair Peretz, have been convicted of criminal offenses
that include fraud and forgery. In addition, MK
Shlomo Benizri was
convicted of bribery, conspiring to commit a crime, and obstruction of
justice on 1 April 2008. Benizri resigned, and Mazor Bahaina,
number thirteen on the
Shas list, replaced him. In 1999, Deri was
sentenced to prison time on corruption charges.
Ovadia Yosef cursed the Palestinians as "evil, bitter enemies
of Israel", and said that, "
Abu Mazen and all these evil people should
perish from this world. God should strike them with a plague." Saeb
Erekat of the PLO said Yosef's remarks were tantamount to a call for
"genocide against Palestinians". Yosef later apologized, and wrote to
Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak: "I support your efforts and praise
all the leaders and the peoples - Egyptians, Jordanians and
Palestinians - who are partners and wish the success of this important
process of achieving peace in our region, and preventing bloodshed.
May God grant you longevity and may you succeed in your efforts for
peace and may there be peace in our region." Previously, Yosef had
called Arabs "vipers", and called for
Israel to "annihilate" them.
"It is forbidden to be merciful to them. You must send missiles to
them and annihilate them. They are evil and damnable." A spokesman
later clarified that his comments were only aimed at murderers and
terrorists, and not the entire Arab world. 
Women activists protested the lack of female representation in
organizing a "No Female Candidate, No Female Vote" campaign. The women
said they would not vote for a party that does not include women
candidates on its slate, and sent an open letter to the Knesset
representatives of ultra-Orthodox parties, which was also circulated
on social media.
Rabbi Mordechai Blau, a senior party member,
threatened that women participating in the movement or bucking the
party leadership would find their children "banned from Haredi
schools", and their employers "boycotted by the community". Shas
announced that it would create a women's council within the movement,
a step that was welcomed by the campaigners. At the same time, they
said: "We will move forward and call on the Haredi factions to enable
women to serve as MKs in the Knesset."
Eli Yishai said on Israel
Radio: "There is nothing in Jewish law that says you can't have a
woman as a
Knesset member. But our rabbis decide what they decide on
every subject, and the same goes for this."
When a group of ultra-Orthodox women created their own party,
U'Bizchutan, Isaac Bezalel, the Haredi
Shas Party spokesman, said:
"The Haredi public is not yet open to women serving in the
Shas party ballot 2009
Shas candidates were elected to the 20th Knesset:
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Haaretz. 29 August 2010. Retrieved 21 December 2011.
^ Sommer, Allison Kaplan (8 December 2014). "Threats and backlash for
ultra-Orthodox women seeking political voice". Haaretz. Retrieved 17
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^ "Haredi women fight for bigger role in politics". Ynetnews.
Associated Press. 26 December 2014. Retrieved 18 June 2015.
^ Michele Chabin (28 February 2015). "Israel's ultra-Orthodox Haredi
women form political party". USA Today. Retrieved 18 June 2015.
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