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Adina Bar-Shalom

by Mara Vigevani

Israel Prize laureate Adina Bar-Shalom, the oldest daughter of the late Rabbi Ovadia Yosef, announced Monday that she would form a political party to challenge the existing haredi political leadership during the next election cycle.

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The new party, to be called Ahi Israeli (My Israeli Brother) will aim at bridging cultural divides in Israeli society and addressing social issues, including mutual respect, religious moderation, wealth inequality and gender equality, especially in the ultra Orthodox sector.

The move is the latest episode in a history of friction between Bar-Shalom and Shas, the political party that her father founded in the 1980s and which has claimed to carry the mantle of his legacy since the rabbi died in 2013. Since then, the party has been plagued by public infighting, primarily between former party chairman Eli Yishai and current head Aryeh Deri. Several prominent Knesset members have left the party. Bar-Shalom has been a frequent critic of Shas and has condemned Deri on multiple occasions.

The new party also follows on an attempt by ultra-Orthodox women to force their way onto the political stage, against the wishes of leading Haredi rabbis. For the 2015 election, a group of women led by activist Ruth Kolian formed B’zchutan (in their merit) and appeared on the ballot but failed to cross the electoral threshold to make it into the Knesset.

While the new party appears to define itself mainly by social issues, Bar-Shalom is likely to adopt her father’s lenient position vis-à-vis territorial compromise: During the Oslo period, the rabbi ruled that parts of the Land of Israel could be traded for peace.

While no prominent Shas members have jumped ship to join the new group, the party list features names from a variety of sides inside Israeli society: Yerucham Local Council Chairman (and former Labor Party member) Michael Biton, former IDF spokesperson Brig. Gen. (Res.) Ruth Yaron and former Bezeq CEO Yitzhak Kaul. Bar-Shalom is registered as the president of the party.

Bar-Shalom, 73, was awarded the Israel Prize in 2014 for her work as a haredi educator. She has consistently worked to promote gender equality and criticized gender segregation on buses as an attempt to “exclude women from the public domain” that “violates the Jewish religion.” In 2011, she made headlines by meeting with Palestinian Authority leader Mahmoud Abbas in Ramallah to advance the peace process.

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