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Israel's Shas in Leadership Crisis

On the eve of its 30th anniversary, the Ultra-Orthodox party Shas finds itself in the opposition and in the throes of a severe leadership crisis, writes Nadav Perry. 
Israel's President Shimon Peres (2nd L) meets Aryeh Deri (L), Eli Yishai and Ariel Attias (R), leaders of the religious Shas party, at his residence in Jerusalem January 31, 2013. Peres began talks with political parties on Wednesday over who should form a new government and appears certain to ask incumbent Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to assemble it. REUTERS/Sebastian Scheiner/Pool (JERUSALEM - Tags: POLITICS ELECTIONS) - RTR3D6U4
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In a few weeks, the ultra-Orthodox Sephardi Shas party will celebrate the 30th anniversary of its founding. Actually, “celebrate” is a bit exaggerated — no one in Shas feels like partying these days. In fact, it would be more correct to say that the Sephardi ultra-Orthodox movement, founded almost by chance on the eve of the 1983 municipal elections, is at one of the lowest points it has known since its inception.

If its only problem was that its members were relegated to the opposition benches and forced to part painfully from the governing coalition’s cash cow, that would be tolerable. The problem is that Shas finds itself in the opposition wilderness while still in the throes of a severe leadership crisis: The party has been conducting itself without a chairman for half a year. The idea of entrusting the movement’s leadership to a trio of politicians has utterly failed. It turns out that Shas is not the Roman Empire and the scheme that worked for the First Triumvirate in 59 BC (Gaius Julius Caesar, Gnaeus Pompeius Magnus and Marcus Licinius Crassus) — and even that only lasted for 10 years — does not work for Aryeh Deri, former Minister of Interior Eli Yishai and former Minister of Housing and Construction Ariel Attias. Add to this mix the simple biological fact that Rabbi Ovadia Yosef, the undisputed spiritual leader, is 93, and the picture is clear: Shas is in deep trouble.

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