Senior United Torah Judaism MK Moshe Gafni has spoken out harshly against Shas
leader Arye Deri during a panel discussion between haredi political leaders,
questioning his political credentials and drawing attention to his past
conviction for accepting bribes.
In a thinly veiled reference to the
criminal convictions of Deri and other Shas leaders, Gafni claimed that no UTJ
leaders had ever been suspected or convicted of any crime.
politicians] don’t look out for themselves, they look out for the general
community,” he added.
Tensions between the two haredi parties have grown
since Deri returned to the high echelons of the Shas leadership last
Eli Yishai, party chairman until Deri’s return, is seen by UTJ as
having taken the party further towards its ultra-Orthodox positions and
policies. At the same time, Deri’s renewed prominence in Shas is causing concern
in the Ashkenazi haredi party that issues critical to it will be abandoned – or
given less prominence – by Shas in the next Knesset.
During the debate,
Gafni took a swipe at Deri’s political competence, commenting that during the
recent coalition crisis over the issue of drafting haredi men into the army, he
asked Deri to intervene with Yisrael Beytenu leader Avigdor Liberman, a strong
advocate of haredi enlistment but with whom Deri is friendly, in order to
resolve the situation.
“He tried [to help], but unfortunately, he didn’t
succeed in helping us,” Gafni noted.
Several UTJ politicians have
recently pointed to the close cooperation the party enjoyed with Shas during the
outgoing Knesset over issues such as haredi military service, civil marriage,
conversion and similar matters, and praised Yishai for facilitating this
Since his return to front line politics, Deri has himself
stoked tensions with UTJ – with comments about alleged discrimination in
Ashkenazi schools against Sephardi girls, a sensitive issue for the Shas party,
as well as UTJ.
Soon after the historic agreement which brought Deri back
to the party as joint leader with Yishai and Construction and Housing Minister
Ariel Attias, he said in a radio interview that he would wage war against
schools discriminating against Sephardim and work to have their funding cut
Gafni struck back against the claims of discrimination during
Tuesday’s panel discussion, saying that he had recently been involved in efforts
to get an Ashkenazi schoolgirl a placement in an Ashkenazi school, only to be
told that the seminar was full because, according to Gafni “they accepted all
the daughters of Shas leaders.”
Following publication of his comments,
Gafni went on the haredi radio station Kol Berama to “clarify” his comments,
saying that they were misunderstood and that he and Deri are friends and have
promised to continue the close cooperation between Shas and UTJ.