Shas (Shomeri Torah Sefaradim, "Torah-Observant 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 Sephardic and Mizrahi Jews.
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. [...] The party was formed under the leadership of former Israeli Chief Sephardi Rabbi Ovadia Yosef, who established a four-member (including himself) Council of Torah Sages and remained the party's spiritual leader until his death.
In the elections to the eleventh Knesset in 1984, Shas won four seats. Following Aryeh Deri's conviction on corruption charges in 1999, 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 government, 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 Shas opposes.
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 seats.
Shas advocates 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 Jewish lifestyle.
At first, 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 freeze in 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. In 2010, Shas joined the World Zionist Organisation, having made significant changes to its charter.
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 gay people.
Several 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.
Women activists protested the lack of female representation in Shas by 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 Knesset."
✡ Benjamin Netanyahu (Politics)
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