According to the dry letter of the law, ex-con Arye Deri, Shas’s erstwhile
leader, is no longer barred from reentering the political fray and stirring up
his unique hubbub. The question to be asked, though, is whether what isn’t
preventable by strict legalistic criteria is perforce acceptable by civic
Was Deri merely prosecuted because of a forgivable slip-up or
was a deeper ethical lapse involved? Is Deri truly a reformed character? Can we
trust that he no longer plays fast and loose with the truth? We need to know
because he could well have a crucial say once more on who forms the next
governing coalition and which policies that coalition would pursue. This is
tantamount to hiring the proverbial released child molester to work in a
All available indications cast grave doubts on the whether Deri
has indeed undergone a transformation.
His credibility isn’t bolstered by
his alacrity not only to reenter the Knesset but also to replace current Shas
leader Eli Yishai.
When Deri was released in 2002 – after serving two
years for bribe-taking and breach of trust – the ex-minister and power-broker
announced melodramatically that he had lost all interest in the political
machinations at which he was an accomplished past master.
proclaimed, he’d stoically and altruistically focus on his spiritual side. Any
future celebrity status would be that of the agonized religious
Indeed, for a while, Deri’s outward demeanor was that of a very
introspective, sorrowful, almost contrite individual. But not for
Just one year later, in 2003, Deri, still sounding like a chastened
man, announced that he was thinking of seeking his political fortunes again
after all, ostensibly at the insistence of entreating adherents who asserted
that his absence created a vacuum he was obligated to fill. Yet the crowds who
saw him off to prison failed to clamor for his comeback.
Next, Deri tried
to run for the Jerusalem mayoralty in 2008, claiming that the moral turpitude
imposed on him as part of his conviction, which prevented him from holding
executive office, had expired six years after his release. The courts argued
that the countdown should begin after the date his full term would have ended –
were it not for time-off-for-good-behavior.
A year-and-a-half ago Deri
took yet another stab at politics, thereby ripping off once and for all the mask
of a sainted martyr and overnight ascetic. That was when he began his campaign
for the takeover of Shas.
If anything, all the above shows a man who, his
meek pose notwithstanding, couldn’t wait to reappear on center-stage. At this
point Deri plainly seeks to coerce Shas mentor Rabbi Ovadyia Yosef to reinstate
him at the top party slot or he will run separately.
This, again, isn’t
the behavior of an unassuming penitent.
There is clearly a problem with
Deri’s current concept of veracity, not only with his past
But one thing hasn’t changed. Deri is a consummate showman,
adept as no other at smoke and mirrors maneuvers. His cheerleaders in politics
and the media create and then hype an artificial buzz about his still viable
vote-getting prowess, something that’s far from proven.
In the long run
our body politic could greatly benefit from legislation to permanently preempt
the return to the Knesset or ministerial office of any convict, especially one
with a moral turpitude stigma, although that stigma itself isn’t the essential
ingredient. It suffices for a candidate to have been convicted in open
For now, however, it’s up to the electorate to prevent convicted
politicians from repetitively playing us for fools. Voters must clarify to them
that they’re unwanted and that our memories aren’t as short as they
In other lands, Deri would stand no chance of reelection. His
offenses were weighty. He added insult to injury by obstructing the course of
justice and by fomenting demonstrations via divisive ethnic propaganda – likely
in order to intimidate the authorities.
He must be rejected on cogent
moral grounds by his own former disciples. That would be the only proper and
convincing cap to his sordid political saga.