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Israeli ultra-Orthodox party locked in internal battle

Ahead of Israeli elections, the ultra-Orthodox Shas Party leader Aryeh Deri is determined to drive away former Shas Chairman Eli Yishai, despite the political price to be paid by an already declining party.
Aryeh Deri (C), leader of the ultra-Orthodox Shas party, attends an annual pilgrimage to the gravesite of Rabbi Yisrael Abuhatzeira, a Moroccan-born sage and kabbalist also known as the Baba Sali, in the southern town of Netivot January 14, 2013.  Powerful political players for years, Israel's ultra-Orthodox parties must now reckon with a new force ushered in by voters bent on stripping them of perks they have relied on for decades. Picture taken January 14, 2013. REUTERS/Amir Cohen (ISRAEL - Tags: POLITICS

On Dec. 14, when the head of the Shas Party, Aryeh Deri, commented on Knesset member Eli Yishai’s anticipated departure from the party, he actually sounded convincing, as if he were full of empathy and respect for Yishai. “I offered my friend Eli Yishai the No. 2 spot on the Knesset list, the position of minister, to ensure that he receives the respect that is his due,” said Deri, while expressing his disappointment over his fellow party member’s stance.

Deri attempted to portray the situation within Shas as calm and tranquil, while in fact, this clash of titans between him and Yishai already had started damaging Shas and was likely also to affect the coming elections. On the evening of Dec. 15, Yishai made his threats a reality and announced the establishment of an independent party, which means that Shas would be the first to suffer. Before this split, polls predicted it would only win about eight seats in the upcoming elections. It seems that from this point onward the situation of the party, which garnered 17 seats in 1999, will only continue to deteriorate.

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