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A media report naming former Shas chairman Aryeh Deri as Acting Prime Minister Ehud Olmert's personal advisor on haredi affairs sparked a flurry of accusations and denials Tuesday.
Olmert's spokesman denied the report. "There are no official contacts between Deri and Olmert."
A source close to Olmert estimated that a battle between vying camps in Shas gave rise to the report. "There are Deri supporters interested in sending a message that [Shas Chairman Eli] Yishai will have to go through Deri to join a government headed by Olmert," said the source.
Shas had no official response to the news item, which appeared on Y-Net.
Yossi Elituv, a senior editor at the haredi weekly Mishpacha, said that the story blew the relationship out of proportion and came at a bad time for both Olmert and Deri.
"Olmert and Deri have a very close relationship both as friends and as business partners," said Elituv.
"But for Deri it is better to keep his connections with Olmert a secret. He gains more that way. And on the eve of his diplomatic address at Herzliya, Olmert does not want Kadima's constituents to think Deri is overly involved."
David Tal, a former Shas MK who is now with Olmert's Kadima, said Deri could be a valuable advisor to Olmert.
"Aryeh can prevent Ehud from making mistakes in his relations with the haredi parties," said Tal. "Also, as someone outside the party he is more objective."
Eliezer Kain, an old acquaintance of Deri's, called the report "stupid".
"Aryeh has lots of friends besides Olmert in Kadima. He is close with Haim Ramon, Ruchama Avraham and Ronnie Bar-On. But he also has connections with Binyamin Netanyahu and Yvette [Lieberman].
"Do your really think someone with Deri's skills will become some kind of civil servant or clerk in the Prime Minister's Office?"
Kain said that Deri's exceptional political instincts made him a highly demanded advisor to many politicians.
Kain also agreed with Elituv that the report put Olmert in an uncomfortable position.
"Ehud already has Ariel Sharon's advisors, Eyal Arad and Lior Horev. A story like this makes it seem as though he does not trust them," said Kain.