Heading into Israel’s March 23 election, Israel’s political scene is volatile—but Shas leader Aryeh Deri, a seasoned politician of 30 years, seems to know what the day after the election has in store.

In an interview with Israel Hayom, he predicted that Yamina leader Naftali Bennett and New Hope chief Gideon Sa’ar will have no choice but to re-join the right-wing bloc. 

“There are no ideological differences between us,” he said. “It is unthinkable for two political parties that belong with the right-wing bloc to torpedo a right-wing government. I don’t believe that would happen.”

Speaking of the possibility of Sa’ar, Bennett, and Yesh Atid leader Yair Lapid forming a government, Deri said he believed it to be highly unlikely. 

“There is no way in the world that Lapid will give Sa’ar or Bennett the premiership, not even for a month,” for Yesh Atid will be the biggest party of the three and will receive more seats than New Hope and Yamina combined, he explained. 

“Chances are that Shas will receive more seats than Bennett or Sa’ar,” he added.  

Deri refuted Sa’ar’s claims that Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is being “blackmailed” by the ultra-Orthodox parties. 

Sa’ar’s campaign promise was to build a government, but instead of the 20 seats he was hoping to get, election polls predict a much lower number each week. 

“His advisers must have told him to target the ultra-Orthodox [parties,] which might stop the decline,” he said. 

Addressing his falling out with Yisrael Beiteinu leader Avigdor Lieberman, an avid opponent of Haredim, Deri said “there was no forgiveness” and called his former friendship with Lieberman the biggest mistake of his life. 

As for the mismanagement of the coronavirus pandemic, Deri blamed Blue and White and their chief Benny Gantz, for they acted out of political considerations alone.

“It was impossible to make decisions on any subject when they [Blue and White] knew that they were approaching the election and their chances of crossing the [four-seat] electoral threshold were dwindling. It is much harder to make decisions [in such a situation,]” he said. 

“We saw this with every decision. We wanted to help businesses in Arnona [in Jerusalem,] which the Attorney General approved, but Blue and White vetoed because it would have helped Netanyahu,” he added.

According to Deri, mistakes were made in connection with education and the Ben Gurion Airport as well, for, in the past six months, decision-making has been “burdensome, slow and late.”

The importance of education was not considered as high as it should have been, he explained. 

“Some say today that Haredim were right to have opened [their schools.] Now we understand the psychological impacts [of lockdowns] and how it affects students. I shouted to the government from day one that education should come first, that in case there is no choice, and the situation is catastrophic, and everything has to be closed down, then it should be. But if we open something, the first thing that should be opened is the schools.”

This article first appeared in Israel Hayom.

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