(photo credit: MARC ISRAEL SELLEM/THE JERUSALEM POST)
Explosive footage of the revered late Shas spiritual leader Rabbi Ovadia Yosef heavily criticizing the party’s current chairman, Arye Deri, was made public Sunday night, a development that could further harm his political standing and electoral hopes.
The footage from 2008 aired by Channel 2, which shows Yosef calling Deri a thief and a bad man who did not listen to the rabbi’s instructions, could severely damage Shas’s political future, given that political legitimacy in the haredi world is based largely on rabbinic support.
The recent establishment of the Yahad Ha’am Itanu party, headed by Deri’s rival Eli Yishai, has badly dented Shas’s standing in opinion polls, and the latest revelations could further harm the party’s political fortunes.
The latest poll conducted by the Panels Research institute for The Jerusalem Post and its Hebrew sister publication Ma’ariv Sof Hashavua had Shas down to four Knesset seats from its current 11 MKs, and Yishai’s party also with four seats.
The video aired by Channel 2 on Sunday night showed Yosef in 2008 talking with his youngest son, Moshe Yosef; Moshe’s wife, Yehudit; and the renowned rabbi’s personal assistant Tzvi Hakkak, when holding elected office was coming to an end.
Deri, who was the chairman of the party until he was convicted on bribery charges and imprisoned for two years, was agitating at the time for a return to the party that had been led since 1999 by Eli Yishai.
In the footage aired by Channel 2, Hakkak is seen reading a newspaper article about Deri’s possible return to Shas and Yosef tells Moshe why he does not want Deri back as party chairman, despite promising him as much when he went to prison.
Yosef said a large percentage of people thought the court had been right to convict Deri and that Shas could lose those voters if they brought him back.
“If we put him, for example, at the head of our [electoral] list, 30 to 40 percent will leave us,” the rabbi says. “Why? Because he was judged in court. Why take someone who [is a] thief? Why take someone who accepts bribes? Why should we do this?... No one has anything on Yishai.”
Yosef also accused Deri of being too independent and of not listening to him. Yosef related that Deri had ousted a Shas figure from his position and installed someone else against the wishes of the rabbi.
“Arye will not listen. I know from past experience, he’s too independent,” Yosef told his son. “Your mother was crying. Is this not an evil person?” said the rabbi. “I told him a couple of times; he didn’t want to listen.”
Yosef also noted that Deri was seeking a potential new rabbinic patron to start a new political party.
“He’s encouraging [Rabbi] Kaduri to make another party. He’ll get 5,000 votes; he won’t pass the electoral threshold.... I can’t betray Eli Yishai,” Yosef said.
In 2012, however, Deri was brought back to the Shas front lines after again threatening to establish a new political party. He was appointed joint chairman along with Yishai and former Shas MK Ariel Atias, and was eventually appointed sole chairman by Yosef.
Yishai has claimed that Yosef was cajoled and manipulated by Deri and his assistants at a time when the rabbi’s health was failing.
In response to the video, Deri issued a statement saying that it was apparent to everyone that Yosef himself had appointed him chairman, and that Yishai had told lies about him to Yosef when the video footage was taken.
“Eli Yishai knew about the promise of Maran [Yosef] in front of the people of Israel to return the deposit to Arye Deri, and because of this he spread lies and false accusations against Deri in order to block his return. The words explicitly spoken by Maran [Yosef] when Arye Deri returned [to head the party] speak for themselves.
“In these days, when the public expects unity, the subversive man who styles himself as loyal [to Yosef] decided to leak a recording in which he secretly recorded Maran and took advantage of the trust Maran had in him.”