Arye Deri’s journey back to the leadership of the Shas party he helped create was completed Thursday night with the rabbinic leadership declaring him undisputed party chairman.
Shas’ Council of Torah Sages, a panel of four rabbis led by Shas spiritual leader Rabbi Ovadiah Yosef, met on Thursday morning to make a final decision on the matter, and approved Yosef’s decision to return Deri to the party’s top position.
The decision was formally announced at Yosef’s residence in the Har Nof neighborhood of Jerusalem Thursday night.
It was also decided to appoint former Shas chairman Eli Yishai as chairman of the Shas education system and MK Ariel Atias as chairman of the Shas Knesset faction who will take over from MK Avraham Michaeli.
Yishai has however asked for ten days to consider what his next steps will be.
Exiled from politics for 13 years following his conviction and jail sentence for bribe taking while a government minister, Deri returned to frontline politics late last year ahead of January’s general election.
His return was bitterly opposed by then Shas chairman Eli Yishai who led the party since Deri was forced to stand down, but Deri’s come-back was sealed by a compromise deal in which he, Yishai and Ariel Atias were made co-Shas leaders, with none of the triumvirate appointed chairman and Yishai given number one spot on the party’s electoral list.
According to Shas sources, Deri’s influence within the party has grown inexorably since his return, which led to infighting over party policy and direction, especially with Yishai, and within the Knesset faction.
Speaking in an interview on Channel 2 after the elections, Deri noted pointedly in response to accusations that the party had lost influence that he had not been appointed as chairman and therefore could not be blamed for Shas’ exclusion from the government.
Agreement on how to tackle crucial issues to the party such as the coming elections for the chief rabbi positions, haredi enlistment in national services, budget cuts and the forthcoming local elections, was proving extremely problematic according to Shas officials, and led Yosef to finally appoint Deri as party chairman.
This decision now seals Deri’s position as the ultimate political authority in Shas, although the movement’s spiritual leader, the revered Rabbi Yosef, is the final arbiter of party policy.
Deri is said to have the ear of Yosef to a greater extent than Yishai, although Yishai remains a favorite of the rabbi.
It was Yosef who put made the final decision to appoint Deri as party chair, having promised Deri in 1999, just before he began his 22-month jail sentence, that he would return to the party as leader after his stint in prison.
The Movement for Quality Government in Israel, an independent government watchdog, denounced the decision saying that it was a stain on Shas to appoint someone convicted of a crime involving moral turpitude to lead the party.
“MQG’s position is that MK Arye Deri is not fitting to stand at the head of a public movement in Israel, since his conviction relates entirely to his exploitation of his position for for negative purposes, personal benefit, and against the public interest,” the organization said in a statement to the press.
“Furthermore, Deri did not take responsibility for his serious misdeeds for which he was convicted and has not expressed regret or apologized for them, a fact which makes it even worse that he is now heading a political party.