From the moment Shas joined the World Zionist Organization, despite a unequivocal ban gedolei Yisroel have upheld throughout the 113 years since its founding, Reform and Conservative groups have been welcoming the party.
Yet these groups have also been raising eyebrows at Shas' surprising move. According to an article by Uri Regev, director of Hiddush — For Religious Freedom and Equality, "For 20 years now there have been reports that Shas is considering joining the WZO, until it became an absurd reality in recent days. If the opportunity to join the WZO changes Shas' image and its well known world views, then it should be welcomed."
However, Regev then challenges the Likud's decision to join forces with Shas. "It comes as quite a surprise that, according to reports, the Likud, a splendid Zionist movement whose loyalty to Zionist ideology has always been at the forefront of the party, has agreed to form a joint faction with Shas. MK Moshe Gafni invariably knew what he was talking about when he reacted to the initiative to join the WZO by stating, `It seems the jobs are more important than the most important thing to religious Judaism, the holy Torah.'"
Regev goes on to write, "It's hard to imagine a sharper contradiction than that of the divide between the Zionist world view and the chareidi world view according to Shas. We have been assured that Shas has taken action to alter its charter in a way that would accommodate the Jerusalem Program, which defines in brief the goals of the Zionist movement. It's hard not to view this as hypocrisy verging on deceit.
"The Jerusalem Program outlines the fundamentals of Zionist as: `Strengthening Israel as a Jewish, Zionist and democratic state and shaping it as an exemplary society with a unique moral and spiritual character, marked by mutual respect for the multifaceted Jewish people.' The world view espoused by Shas and chareidi Jewry is totally at odds with that of the Zionist movement."
Regev's article followed other surprising remarks, including those of Shas' WZO representative, former NRP Knesset member Yigal Bibi, who has revealed that he remains "a religious Zionist through and through."
"I sit in Shas' room in the Knesset, but I feel as if this is the NRP of yesteryear," he told Matzav Haruach, a national-religious newsletter. "I feel as if I've returned to the good old days of religious Zionism, as if I'm sitting with Chazani, Burg and Melamed....Shas really does remind me of those good days."
For over a century rabbonim have forbidden any cooperation with the WZO, a ban that only the Mizrachi Movement violated, claiming "we have our own rabbonim, and they have permitted us." That move led to a split between the national-religious sector and the chareidi public, a rift that has grown wider and wider over the years.
Shas' decision to become a WZO member continues to send shock waves throughout chareidi world. Rabbonim and marbitzei Torah of all backgrounds have been remonstrating against the move by a party that claims to be chareidi, yet breaches a longstanding ban upheld by generations of rabbonim, publicly trampling one of the defining principles of chareidi Judaism and seeking to abrogate the isolation from Zionism that has characterized the chareidi world and is considered a clear distinction between the Torah world and the Mizrachi world, which, since joining the Zionist movement, has steadily fallen into decline. For the last elections, they removed the reference to religion from their party name.