Arye Deri’s likely return to frontline politics has prompted anti-corruption groups to open fire on the former Shas leader, who served nearly two years in prison for taking bribes while holding political office.

MK Arieh Eldad (National Union), who chairs the Knesset anti-corruption lobby, issued a statement Tuesday morning harshly denouncing Deri’s return to the Shas Party.

“His return... stinks and covers the entire political system in shame,” Eldad declared. “It’s a shame that Deri, [former prime minister Ehud] Olmert and [former Kadima MK and cabinet minister Tzahi] Hanegbi are not establishing one party,” he continued, in reference to the criminal convictions of Olmert and Hanegbi.

“Criminals should not be allowed to return to the scene of the crime,” Eldad concluded.

The MK conceded however that there is no legal impediment to Deri returning to the Knesset as an MK or to government as a cabinet minister.

Deri served 22 months of a three-year jail term from 2000-2002 for accepting bribes from the Lev Banim Yeshiva during his tenure as director-general of the Interior Ministry and then as interior minister.

He used the money to help buy an apartment, as well as other items.

Those convicted of a crime involving moral turpitude – as Deri was – are banned from running for Knesset for a period of seven years following their release from prison.

Deri has waged a fierce campaign to be reappointed as Shas chairman and is now expected to return to the party, although it remains unclear what position he will take.

Army Radio reported on Tuesday night that a possible solution to the leadership struggle between Deri and current party chairman Eli Yishai, which has been crystallizing over the past 24 hours, is for Yishai to remain at the top of the party list, with Deri in second place – and neither of them being given the title of party chairman.

Despite his conviction on bribery charges, Deri remains extremely popular among Shas’s core Sephardi voters.

According to a poll conducted this week by Dr. Mina Tzemach, commissioned by Deri, Shas would win 13-14 seats if he were to lead the party into elections, as opposed to 9-10 without him.

In addition to Eldad’s comments, the Movement for Quality Government in Israel, an NGO, addressed a statement directly to Rabbi Ovadia Yosef, the spiritual leader and ultimate authority of the Shas movement, saying that someone who took advantage of high public office for personal gain should not be a candidate for any kind of public office in the future.

“Deri’s return as party head would turn Shas into a party of shame, and no Shas leader will be able to explain to the public how the movement which helps the weak chose to appoint a person who took money in his own pocket,” the organization wrote.

“The citizens of Israel should have fitting representatives of whom it can be said that they have ‘clean hands and a pure heart,’” movement director Eli Sulam added, quoting the Book of Psalms.

He called on Yosef to meet with movement representatives before making his decision on whether Deri will be allowed to return to the party in a senior position.

Prof. Mordechai Kremnitzer, vice president of research at the Israel Democracy Institute, said that in any normative state it would be obvious that someone such as Deri would not be allowed to return to politics, and that it is not fitting for him to take up a position of public prominence and influence such as a government figure or head of a political faction.

Kremnitzer emphasized that Deri has never expressed regret for his deeds and that his supporters tried to besmirch the justice system as part of a ploy to discredit his conviction.

On Monday, right-wing activist and Almagor terror victims organization director Meir Indor said that he has boxes of anti-Deri political flyers in storage that he plans to hang on streets all over Israel.

The posters blame Deri for the Knesset approval of the Oslo Accords and focus on his criminal record.

“Deri is responsible for the 1,400 deaths that came as a result of Oslo,” Indor said.

Lahav Harkov contributed to this report.

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