(photo credit: MARC ISRAEL SELLEM/THE JERUSALEM POST)
When Shas leader Arye Deri started serving his bribery sentence in September 2000, there were mass demonstrations and a Mizrahi music anthem pronouncing him innocent.
A yeshiva was formed outside Ma’asiyahu Prison called Sha’agat Arye, Hebrew for the lion’s roar, named after Deri, whose first name means lion and whose political leadership of Sephardi Jewry was unquestioned at the time.
Shas won 17 seats, making Deri the kingmaker who held the balance of power and crowned Ehud Barak prime minister.
When Deri left the prison two years later, he was no longer the firebrand he was when he entered. He went through legal hurdles to return to politics. It took him time to force out Eli Yishai, the temporary Shas chairman who overstayed his welcome, just in time before the death of his party’s popular mentor, Rabbi Ovadia Yosef.
Shas now has only seven seats in the Knesset, and the latest polls show him not gaining any more in the next election. Deri even quit the Knesset to allow in young blood, taking advantage of the so-called Mini-Norwegian Law.
Deri returned to the Interior Ministry, where he served when he committed the crimes that put him in jail the first time. But the ministry’s most important and lucrative departments were removed before he came back.
The police worked on Deri’s current case for more than a year, questioning his brother and financial benefactor Shlomo multiple times. Summoning Deri’s wife and partner, Yaffa, for questioning at the same time and leaking that he could be kept in custody overnight added to the drama.
If this case brings him down, it would be good news for Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, whose Likud could see the return of the party’s traditional voters who left for Shas years ago.
Unlike last time, there would likely be no demonstrations and no songs for Deri. The Deri who was questioned by police for several hours Monday never fully recovered from his previous legal ordeal. He was a wounded lion who could no longer roar.