The head of the Am Shalem party, Rabbi Chaim Amsellem, has joined Likud. It is reported that Gabi Kadosh was conducting behind the scenes talks with Amsellem on behalf of Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu for the past months in the hope of bringing him onboard.
Amsellem is quoted telling Maariv, “I came from a chareidi party and I have not changed an iota since the day I entered Shas. At the age of 23 I was a rav in a Poel Mizrachi moshav and I do not hide the fact that I believed the day Shas was founded I heard the bells of redemption. I always believed we should all learn Torah, earn a living and serve in the IDF with the exception of those who are devoting their lives to rabbonus. When I was asked to serve in the Knesset I was aware that I was entering a minefield. I never could have imagined just how far Shas has drifted from its inception to become a chareidi-litvish party and in a short time; it will no longer be Sephardi either. Nevertheless, there are names like Aryeh Deri and Ariel Atias but there is a disconnect from the Sephardi roots. Disputes arose and I got out of there”.
Amsellem continues, explaining that while his party did not pass the minimum threshold to enter Knesset, he did earn close to 50,000 votes and this was sufficient for him to realize he should continue in politics. He explains how he was contacted by Naftali Bennett, with the latter explaining Am Shalem’s natural place is with the dati leumi party. “Bennett even posted a picture of the two of us on his Facebook page”. Amsellem describes that after Bennett was elected as party leader, “It is like the earth swallowed him up and it became clear to me he was not the same person and we are to part ways”.
When asked why he ultimately decided to shift to Likud, he explains that the Likud has a wide representation, including members who are chareidi, religious, and traditional, as well as mainstream Israelis and he feels this is important.
Which Likud are you joining, that of Binyamin Netanyahu or Danny Danon?
First of all, I support Likud led by Netanyahu. At this time, he is navigating wisely. I am here to strengthen Likud with an emphasis on social issues that were neglected in the previous administration.
So in other words you are the replacement for [Moshe] Kahlon?
In your words
Amsellem does not hide his desire to serve as Minister of Religious Services. He explains he would run the religious services of Israel in a sane moderate fashion. He plans to reawaken the religious component of Likud. To date, his activists have signed up 1,200 people and they hope to bring that number to over 2,000 in the coming two months.
Shas is on the verge of breaking apart. There are three or four mandates that are waiting for me to take them for only I represent the true authentic Sephardi, those who Shas betrayed.
I am well liked and this will be seen in the Likud Central Committee. I am also building on our own internal strength and we are working tirelessly.
The void created by Shas leaves a golden opportunity to gather votes through me. In recent years the Likud refrained from battling for the votes that shifted to Shas but today, something occurred in Israel. The Shas leadership no longer exits. The party has begun shifting left and this leaves tremendous opportunity for the Likud.
Amsellem’s close supporters believe today Shas is building an anti-Netanyahu base and therefore, Likud will not prevent battling for the Shas votes, something that did not occur in the past when there was a union between Netanyahu and Eli Yishai.
Amsellem is very critical on how Bayit Yehudi is handling giyur, a subject on which he has published a number of seforim.
Even Rabbi Mordechai Eliyahu, who personally felt one must be stringent regarding giyur appointed rabbonim to head cities to find solutions and at times rely on leniencies. Today the tyrannical chareidi rules and thinks justice lies only with its perception and disqualifies any and all initiative towards leniency as illegitimate. The chareidi world believes that anyone who does not agree with it is Reform, a ‘kofer’ or both.
Do you expect the deputy minister of religious affairs to get into a confrontation with the Chief Rabbinate of Israel?
I expect a Zionist party to adopt a Zionist path and to avoid assimilation. Take for example the psak Halacha of Maran HaRav Bentzion Meir Chai Uziel ZT”L, who was among those who forged the path of Mizrachi, ruling it is acceptable and even mandatory to accept a convert even if we are not certain he will accept mitzvos under certain conditions. He did not say this as a leniency for giyur but because he understood our difficult plight, and that is how the batei din in Eretz Yisrael conducted themselves in our time. I supported this and I was not alone in this view.
I say there is a need to implement at least for those people from Jewish roots that are willing to keep mitzvos like most of traditional Am Yisrael. The window of opportunity is closing, immigrants have been discouraged and Israeli culture envelops them. Tomorrow they will not require giyur. Thus our sons and daughters and especially those of religious Zionism will encounter problems in every direction.
(YWN – Israel Desk, Jerusalem)