Analysis: Deri's return to Shas more likely with mayoral option closed

If early elections take place no sooner than nine months from now, Deri would be able to present his candidacy.

By MATTHEW WAGNER
October 5, 2008 23:29
3 minute read.
Analysis: Deri's return to Shas more likely with mayoral option closed

aryeh deri looking jaunty 248.88. (photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski )

 
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Although Shas mentor Rabbi Ovadia Yosef will have the final word, Aryeh Deri's return to Shas is looking more likely as chances of his being able to run for Jerusalem mayor ebb, Shas sources said Sunday. "If elections are postponed until Aryeh can legally be elected [July 2009] the pressure on Shas to bring him back will be almost unbearable," a Shas source said. "On the other hand if elections are called before Aryeh can return to politics it would be difficult to imagine seeing him returning to Shas after the elections." If early elections take place no sooner than nine months from now, Deri would be able to present his candidacy. According to Shas sources, Deri's popularity would force Shas to seriously consider including the former Shas chairman in its list. Deri could threaten to run on an independent list, which would split the Shas vote. And even if Deri did not run on an independent list, Shas would lose an important vote-mustering figure that could potentially increase the number of Shas mandates in the Knesset. In 1999, on the eve of his imprisonment, Deri managed to bring Shas a record 17 mandates, compared to the present 12 Shas received in the 2006 elections. Shas mentor Yosef wants to maximize Shas's electoral potential to better further the haredi Sephardi party's goals of strengthening Jewish education and Shas's influence in religious and social welfare issue. However, Yosef is not willing to do it at any price, said Shas sources. Deri's independent-minded leadership style brought Shas into conflict with Ashkenazi haredi leadership. Ostensibly Shas's leadership is Yosef and the Council of Sages. But Deri often took liberties that circumvented the spiritual leadership. To demonstrate this point, a Shas source told the following story: "One day a reporter called Deri's office to find out what the Council of Sages had decided on a particular issue," the source recounted. "Deri's secretary went into her boss's room to find out, but Deri was fast asleep. The secretary returned to the phone and said 'Sorry, the council is sleeping right now call back later.'" In contrast, Yosef has found in Eli Yishai a loyal adherent who includes his rabbi in all major decision-making processes. Sources close to Shas say that Yosef has no intention of replacing Yishai. At the same time, Yosef has become closer to Deri in recent years. The two men meet regularly for Saturday afternoon meals at Yosef's home. Meanwhile, sources close to Deri refused to entertain the possibility that their leader would switch his sights from the mayoral elections to national politics. "We have a lot of people working really hard on the campaign for mayor," said Yosef-Haim Halaf, Deri's spokesman. "We can't just tell them to go home now because there has been a change in plans. We can't play around with people like that." Last week Deri, the charismatic former Shas chairman whose exceedingly successful political career was cut short after being convicted of bribery, fraud and breach of trust, was told by a Jerusalem District Court that he cannot run for mayor. The moral turpitude attached to his crimes dictated that Deri must complete a seven-year exile from politics begun in July 2002, said the court. Deri has stated on numerous occasions that he intended to return to a life of politics as soon as he was legally able to. However, he has yet to announce whether he plans to appeal against the district court decision. Deri plans to call a press conference Monday to announce what his plans are. Tuesday is the deadline for registering in the mayoral race. In theory, Deri could register for the mayoral elections on launch a campaign on condition that he wins the Supreme Court appeal. But Deri would risk running a campaign eclipsed by the incessant doubt that he might not be allowed to be elected.

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