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Rabbi Ovadia Yosef, working via proxy, invited Aryeh Deri, the popular former leader of Shas, to take an active role in the haredi Sephardi party's campaign and leadership.
David Glass, Yosef's confidant and legal advisor, made a public announcement Friday during an interview on Radio Kol Chai that Yosef, Shas's spiritual leader, was interested in seeing Deri in a leadership position.
Glass told The Jerusalem Post that Ovadia had no intention of switching Eli Yishai, Shas's present chairman and leader.
"Rabbi Ovadia has a tremendous rapport with Yishai," said Glass, Ashkenazi and modern orthodox, who is considering one of Ovadia's closest and most highly esteemed advisors outside the ranks of Shas.
"Eli asks for the rabbis advice, he makes sure the rabbi is involved with all major decisions. It is much easier for rabbi Ovadia to work with Yishai than with Aryeh," said Glass inferring that Ovadia was displeased with Deri's autonomous leadership style.
Glass said that Ovadia had made it clear on numerous occasions that he was interested in seeing Deri take a leadership position in Shas.
"The rabbi values Aryeh's tremendous organizational skills. There is nothing unrespectable about a number two slot."
Glass rejected the possibility that his public call to Deri was a direct result of the victory of Amir Peretz over Shimon Peres for Labor chairmanship.
However, David Tal, a former Shas MK who left Shas to form Am Ehad with Amir Peretz but did not follow Peretz to Labor, said Glass's radio appearance could only be understood on the backdrop of Peretz's victory.
"Shas stands to lose a significant amount of its electoral strength to Peretz," said Tal. "The call to Deri is a responsible reaction to the new reality. It is an attempt to save a political party with a magnificent past. In the last elections Shas dropped from 17 to 11 mandates. There is a definite chance that Shas will lose more if it does not get Deri back."
Eliezer Kain, considered one of Deri's closest associates, rejected the idea that Deri would return to Shas.
Kain was quoted on Y-Net as saying that Shas was "cynically exploiting Deri's popularity" and that the political party had no real intention of offering him a leadership position.
"Deri is waiting to get back Yishai's position as Shas chairman."
In any event Deri will not me returning to the Knesset or to a ministry in the near future. In March 1999 he was convicted of bribery. He was released from prison in July 2002 after serving about two years. From the time of his release he cannot serve as MK for seven years and as minister for ten years.
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