Schism That May Be Key to Israeli Elections

Shas, Yisrael Beiteinu Falling Out Imperils Far Right Coalition

The presumptive key to Likud leader Benjamin Netanyahu’s ability to credibly form a coalition government (assuming he is not able to put together his unity government) has been a right-far-right coalition. Polls suggest that Likud, Shas, and Yisrael Beiteinu would have virtually the number of seats needed to form a coalition by themselves. But those last two parties, who may hold the key to a Netanyahu government, are increasingly at odds.

The two parties may share similar locations on the Israeli political spectrum, but the ultra-religious Shas and the secular nationalists driving Yisrael Beiteinu leader Avigdor Lieberman up in the polls don’t see eye to eye on much.

Yesterday, during his weekly sermon, Shas leader Rabbi Ovadia Yosef declared that supporting Yisrael Beiteinu was “an intolerable sin,” and that “whoever does so supports Satan and the evil inclination.” Rabbi Yosef’s concerns are that Lieberman and co. support civil marriages, would permit the sale of pork, and would require religious students to serve in the military.

But Lieberman’s political base doesn’t begin and end with Israeli teens marching through the streets chanting “death to the Arabs.” Many of his Russian immigrant supporters are concerned that Shas would ban them from doing things… like having civil marriages and selling pork.

The end result? That “no citizenship without loyalty” slogan Yisrael Beiteinu has been using to such popular effect against the Arab citizenry is now being turned on the religious right followers of Shas. The Israeli Arabs don’t serve in the military, but neither do most of Shas’ voters.

It seems difficult for these two factions to reconcile what are ultimately core differences, and this could cost Netanyahu dearly in the election. The Israeli President is supposed to give whichever party is most capable of forming a coalition first crack at it, and if Shas and Yisrael Beiteinu are mutually exclusive there is no longer any guarantee that this will be Likud.

Author: Jason Ditz

Jason Ditz is Senior Editor for He has 20 years of experience in foreign policy research and his work has appeared in The American Conservative, Responsible Statecraft, Forbes, Toronto Star, Minneapolis Star-Tribune, Providence Journal, Washington Times, and the Detroit Free Press.