Shortly after the dramatic announcement, Shas' three leaders – Eli Yishai, Aryeh Deri and Ariel Atias – issued a joint statement welcoming the move. "The merger makes the choice simpler. It is now obvious that there is just one party that cares for the needy and for Jewish tradition."
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Minister Atias said, "A united Shas can only grow stronger from this union, mainly in the periphery and among the traditional-Mizrahi public. We have the ability to cooperate with any government but in order to avoid economic sanctions on the weaker populations we need a strong Shas to block these trends."
Shas leaders with Netanyahu (Photo: Amos Ben Gershom, GPO)
Minister Yishai also estimated Shas will benefit from the merger. "We remain the only social party to safeguard tradition and to care for the need and Jewish values in Israel."
The party is now focusing its attention on a social campaign that will attract former Likud voters. It is hoping to win back some of the voters who left Shas after Deri's departure.
Meanwhile, some haredi politicians expressed concern that the Likud-Yisrael Beiteinu merger will leave the ultra-Orthodox bloc out of the coalition allowing it to pass universal draft bills.
Knesset Member Moshe Gafni of the United Torah Judaism said that the party had locked horns with Yisrael Beiteinu in the last term. "Their merger with the Likud will create many challenges for the haredi public in the next term."
Akiva Novick is a Ynet and Yedioth Ahronoth correspondent
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