The saga of Arye Deri’s long battle to return to the party he founded concluded
Wednesday night when the Council of Torah Sages of the Shas movement, led by
Rabbi Ovadia Yosef, decided to bring him back into the fold.
decision of who will actually lead the party was ducked, however, with Shas
spiritual leader Yosef – who holds ultimate authority in the movement – deciding
to name the party chairman after the elections.
The party chairmanship
has therefore been temporarily suspended, and a triumvirate leadership of
Construction and Housing Minister Ariel Attias, Deri and current party chair and
Interior Minister Eli Yishai will take the party into the elections, with Deri
heading the election campaign.
Yishai will be placed first in the Shas
electoral list, Deri will be second and Yishai will likely take the most senior
ministerial position allocated to the party in the next government, should Shas
join a governing coalition after the elections.
Deri and Yishai met face
to face at Yosef’s house in Jerusalem’s Har Nof neighborhood at around 8:30
p.m. on Wednesday, with the members of the Council of Torah Sages
arriving some time afterwards to rubber stamp the deal.
Speaking to the
media after their meeting, both politicians presented a united front of party
harmony. Deri declared that everyone had won through the compromise deal and
vowed that no arguments would be heard coming out of the party from here on
Yishai welcomed Deri back, saying that he had “come home” and that
his return would mean an increase in the number of seats the party gains in the
coming elections, and that the broader public would benefit as
“Where there is unity there is blessing, and Shas will be as one
person with one heart,” Yishai said.
According to sources close to the
housing minister, Yosef asked Attias last week to broker a deal between Deri and
Yishai in order to bring a semblance of unity back to the party.
the agreement, Shas insiders believe it will be hard for Yishai and Deri to work
together, with Deri’s political cunning and charisma likely to overshadow the
more staid character of the present interior minister.
Deri served 22
months of a three-year jail term from 2000 to 2002 for accepting bribes from the
Lev Banim Yeshiva during his tenure as director-general of the Interior Ministry
and then as interior minister.
Anyone convicted of a crime involving
moral turpitude – as Deri was – is banned from running for Knesset for a period
of seven years following their release from prison. The coming elections are
therefore the first for which Deri is able to run since his release, despite
unsuccessful attempts that were made for him to run in the 2009
Earlier on Wednesday, a contingent of activists from the
Movement for Quality Government in Israel gathered outside Yosef’s home, calling
on him via megaphone to bar from returning to the party in light of his past
The presence of the approximately 20 protesters
angered the crowd of Shas supporters gathered outside the rabbi’s house and led
to angry confrontations between the two sides before the police
Haim Amsalem, a former Shas MK who has set up an opposition
party – Am Shalem – to compete with Shas for the Sephardi vote, said in response
that Deri’s return disgraced the party.
“Shas has shamed and embarrassed
the Sephardi public... this is a desecration of God’s name.
party that has put a convicted criminal into its leadership is a haredi party,”