(photo credit: MARC ISRAEL SELLEM)
Shas chairman and Interior Minister Arye Deri apologized on Monday for comments he made about Chief Rabbi of Jerusalem Shlomo Amar in a private telephone conversation that was leaked to the press last week.
In a phone conversation between Deri and the son of Shas spiritual leader Rabbi Shalom Cohen, Deri referred to Amar without using his rabbinical title and spoke disparagingly of him, saying that he wants control, seeks honor and would ruin Shas if he was brought into the party leadership.
During a Shas faction meeting in the Knesset on Monday, Deri was strongly critical of the circumstances in which the conversation had come to light, saying it was impossible to speak to anyone without fear that he was being recorded.
But he also insisted that he respects Amar and had not meant to publicly disparage him.
“I respect, appreciate and value – and any other word you want to add – Rabbi Shlomo Amar, who is truly one of our great Torah scholars. [He is among] the most important Torah scholars in Israel and in the world,” said Deri.
“There was no intent to [cause] harm, God forbid,” he added.
Deri noted again that it was a private phone call and said that in such conversations one is less guarded with one’s words, noting as well the ferocity of the division between Shas and the party’s rivals, which include Amar.
“Things were said which shouldn’t have been said. I’m sorry for that... and I am saddened that a desecration of God’s name was caused.”
The conversation caused a political storm within Shas and gave rise to the impression that Deri has lost the absolute control he used to enjoy within the party, since he appeared to be arguing and remonstrating with Cohen’s son Ya’acov during the call not to pursue a policy of reconciliation within the Sephardi Haredi political world, particularly with Amar and with former Shas chairman Eli Yishai. That Deri was trying to convince someone else within the party framework of something was seen as sign of his own weakness.
Shas’s position on opinion polls has taken a hit, with one recent poll putting Shas under the 3.25% electoral threshold required to enter the Knesset, while another put the party only just over.
The criminal investigations into Deri, into his personal finances and those of his family, have also weakened his position.