Eli Yishai

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Eli Yishai
Eli Yishai 2009.jpg
Date of birth (1962-12-26) 26 December 1962 (age 52)
Place of birth Jerusalem, Israel
Knessets 14, 15, 16, 17, 18, 19
Faction represented in Knesset
1996–2014 Shas
Ministerial roles
1996–2000 Minister of Labor & Social Welfare
2001–2002 Deputy Prime Minister
2001–2002 Minister of Internal Affairs
2001–2002 Deputy Prime Minister
2001–2002 Minister of Internal Affairs
2006–2013 Deputy Prime Minister
2006–2009 Minister of Industry, Trade & Labour
2009–2013 Minister of Internal Affairs

Eliyahu "Eli" Yishai (Hebrew: אֵלִי יִשַׁי; born 26 December 1962) is an Israeli politician and former leader of the Shas party. He currently serves as a member of the Knesset for Shas, and previously served in government as one of four Deputy Prime Ministers and Minister of Internal Affairs. In December 2014 he left Shas to establish the Yachad party.


Yishai was born in Jerusalem in 1962, to Zion (1933-2004) and Yvette-Fortuna (1934-2009) who had immigrated to Israel from Tunis, Tunisia. Yishai is the second of seven children. He studied at the Porat Yosef Yeshiva in Jerusalem and Yeshivat Hnegev in Netivot. In 1980 Yishai enlisted in the IDF and served until 1983. In 1984, he entered political life.[1][2]

Yishai is married and has five children.[3]

Political life[edit]

Yishai started his political life as a member of the Jerusalem City Council from 1987 to 1988. In 1988 Yishai served as an aide to Aryeh Deri who was then Israel's Minister of Internal Affairs. Although Yishai did not win a seat in the Knesset in the 1992 election, he was appointed general secretary of Shas, the Sephardic and Mizrahi Haredi party. Yishai was first elected to the Knesset in the 1996 elections as a member of Shas, and was made Minister of Labour and Social Welfare in Binyamin Netanyahu's government.

He retained his seat in the 1999 elections, and was again appointed Minister of Labor and Social Welfare in Ehud Barak's government. After Ariel Sharon beat Barak in the 2001 Prime Ministerial election, Yishai was appointed as Interior Minister and made a Deputy Prime Minister in Sharon's national unity government.

Yishai took over as party leader when Aryeh Deri was convicted of fraud but Shas were not included in Ariel Sharon's coalition government of the 16th Knesset.

After the 2006 elections Shas were invited to join Ehud Olmert's coalition and Yishai was made Minister of Industry, Trade, and Labour as well as being a Deputy Prime Minister. He remained Deputy Prime Minister following the 2009 elections, but moved to the Internal Affairs portfolio.

Leader of Shas party 2000-2013[edit]

Political poster for Shas, featuring Yishai.

Yishai was first elected to the Knesset in the 1996 elections subsequently becoming Minister of Labour and Social Welfare in Binyamin Netanyahu's government. During his first term as MK, the leader of Shas party was Aryeh Deri. In 2000, Deri was convicted of taking $155,000 in bribes while serving as Interior Minister and given a three-year jail sentence. Deri was replaced by Yishai as head of the party. Although Deri's sentence was only for three years, the court ruled that he be banned from entering politics for ten years.[4] For the next thirteen years Yishai served as leader of the party.

As leader of Shas, Yishai was seen as a political hawk and steered the party to the right of where it had been under Deri. Yishai tried to recruit voters from the settlements and led the party out of Ehud Barak’s government in advance of the Camp David summit with Yasser Arafat in 2000. Under Yishai's leadership, Shas grew from 4 seats to 17 seats.[5]

In May 2013, some months after internal rift following Deri's political comeback, Yishai was ousted and Deri was once again renamed as the leader of the Shas party.[6] Ovadia Yosef, the Sephardi sage and Shas spiritual leader said regarding his decision to oust Yishai "It was a deposit that he held, and now he can redeem it." Yosef also said he had told Deri at the time of his imprisonment that the position of party leader would be returned to him.[7]

HaAm Itanu[edit]

In December 2014, Yishai announced that he would be leaving Shas to establish a new party, which would run in the 2015 elections. It was suggested that the new party could be named Maran and Yachad, before it was named Yachad. The announcement came after friction between Arye Deri and Yishai could not be controlled.[8] Nine of Shas' 11 government ministers signed a statement indicating their support for Aryeh Deri, and Shas' Council of Torah Sages ordered Deri to cancel a weekend meeting with Yishai during which the two planned to attempt a reconciliation.[9] Yishai had previously served as leader of Shas for 14 years and had been a member for 30 years.[10]


In 2006, Yishai was subjected to criticism after he claimed that negative results from the 2006 Lebanon War were a consequence of soldiers not being as religiously observant as they were in the past.[11]

Yishai has been accused of negligence in the wake of Israel's deadly forest fire in December 2010, prompting calls to resign.[12]

In May 2009, he refused to allow the Holy See to exercise jurisdiction over Christian holy sites in Israel, an agreement which would have resolved disputes over the implementation of the 1993 Fundamental Accord.[13] That November, Yishai argued that African refugee migrants to Israel should not be allowed to settle permanently in Israel because they bring in "a range of diseases such as hepatitis, measles, tuberculosis and AIDS."[14] However, the Jerusalem Post reviewed Israeli Ministry of Health data, and concluded that there was a relatively low infection rate among asylum-seekers.[15]

In a June 2012 interview with the Israeli daily Maariv, Yishai was quoted as saying: "Muslims that arrive here do not even believe that this country belongs to us, to the white man." [16]

Yishai declared Günter Grass, the German Nobel laureate, as persona non grata on 8 April 2012, four days after the publication of his poem "Was gesagt werden muss" ("What Must Be Said").[17][18][19][20]

On 17 November 2012, Yishai stated about Israel's Operation Pillar of Defense in Gaza: "The goal of the operation is to send Gaza back to the Middle Ages. Only then will Israel be calm for forty years."[21][22] He also was quoted as saying “We must blow Gaza back to the Middle Ages, destroying all the infrastructure including roads and water.”[23]


  1. ^ "Eliyahu Yishai". Israel Ministry of Foreign Affairs. 
  2. ^ "Knesset Member, Eliyahu Yishai". Knesset. 23 May 2002. Retrieved 9 September 2012. 
  3. ^ "Eliyahu Yishai". MFA. 31 March 2009. Retrieved 9 September 2012. 
  4. ^ "Israeli political leader goes to jail after emotional send-off". CNN. 3 September 2000. Retrieved 7 July 2013. 
  5. ^ "Eli Yishai breaks away from Shas, announces new party". Haaretz. 15 December 2014. 
  6. ^ Aryeh Deri restored as Shas leader, Eli Yishai is out, Israel Hayom
  7. ^ Kalman, Aaron (5 May 2013). "I promised Deri he'd return to lead party, Shas rabbi says". The Times of Israel. Retrieved 7 July 2013. 
  8. ^ "After 30 years, Yishai looks set to divorce from Shas". The Times of Israel. 14 December 2014. 
  9. ^ "Eli Yishai leaving Shas, launching party for elections". Jewish Telegraphic Agency. 14 December 2014. 
  10. ^ Kobi Nachshoni, (15 December 2014). Eli Yishai announces Shas departure, new party. Ynet News.
  11. ^ Hartman, Ben (18 January 2012). "Parents of fallen soldiers call". JPost. Retrieved 9 September 2012. 
  12. ^ "The guilty party". Ynetnews. Retrieved 9 September 2012. 
  13. ^ Williams, Dan (4 May 2009). "Israeli minister blocks zone deal for Church sites". Reuters. Retrieved 27 January 2010. 
  14. ^ Weiler-Polak, Dana (5 November 2009). "Israel proposes work camps for illegal migrants". Haaretz. Retrieved 27 January 2010. 
  15. ^ Friedman, Ron (6 November 2009). "Health Ministry data refutes Yishai's claims that African refugees bring in disease". Jerusalem Post. Archived from the original on 6 November 2009. Retrieved 27 January 2010. 
  16. ^ Sinai, Ruth (3 June 2012). "Israel enacts law allowing authorities to detain illegal migrants for up to 3 years". Haaretz. Retrieved 9 September 2012. 
  17. ^ Bar-Zohar, Barak; Ravid (8 April 2012). "Interior Minister declares Gunter Grass persona non grata in Israel". Haaretz. Retrieved 8 April 2012. 
  18. ^ Sherwood, Harriet (8 April 2012). "Günter Grass barred from Israel over poem: Nobel laureate, who says he had not meant to criticise Israel but Netanyahu government, declared persona non grata". The Guardian. Retrieved 8 April 2012. 
  19. ^ Levy, Gideon (8 April 2012). "Israelis can be angry with Gunter Grass, but they must listen to him". Haaretz. Retrieved 8 April 2012. 
  20. ^ Harding, Luke; Sherwood, Harriet (5 April 2012). "Günter Grass's Israel poem provokes outrage: Germany's most celebrated writer's lyrical warning of a looming Israeli aggression against Iran triggers international row". The Guardian. Retrieved 5 April 2012. 
  21. ^ LIVE BLOG: IDF prepares for ground invasion as Gaza offensive enters fourth day, Haaretz, 17 November 2012.
  22. ^ Ground war looms as Israeli bombs pound Gaza, The Herald, 18 November 2012.
  23. ^ LIVE BLOG DAY 4: Operation Pillar Of Defense, Yeshiva World News, 17 November 2012.

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