(photo credit: MARC ISRAEL SELLEM/THE JERUSALEM POST)
It is hard to decide whether to weep for our political system or be amused by the Arye Deri farce.
The Shas leader’s most recent antics eclipse all his previous shenanigans (which were nothing to scoff at either).
Deri’s seemingly exasperated departure from politics and his non-too-surprising about-turn a mere few days later befits a burlesque skit.
There is no telling whether his performance will pass muster with the voters of Shas, a party with its own unique system of logic. But in the broader Israeli context, what is not preventable by strict legalistic criteria need not be acceptable by civic standards.
According to the letter of the law, there is nothing wrong with Deri’s latest stunt. The new twist in the sleazy plot began with his great show of taking offense when a video of the late Shas mentor Rabbi Ovadia Yosef surfaced. There Yosef is heard warning the party about the electoral consequences of “taking back a thief. Why take back a bribe-taker?” he asks.
Deri sulked but convinced nobody. It was a foregone conclusion that he would be back in no time, that he had instructed the current Shas mentors to order him back and that he would dutifully and humbly obey their command.
Deri’s crass manipulation came replete with tormented expressions and despondent utterances, familiar from previous escapades.
Several days after he resigned as party chairman, Deri announced, “Whoever doesn’t change his mind is an ass.”
It is not the first time he vowed to stay out of politics only to change his mind.
When he was released from prison in 2002 – after serving two years for bribe-taking and breach of trust – the former minister and power broker announced melodramatically that he had lost all interest in the political maneuvering at which he was a past master.
Henceforth, he proclaimed, he would stoically and altruistically focus on his spiritual side. Any celebrity status would be that of the agonized religious figure.
Indeed, for a while, Deri’s outward demeanor was that of an introspective, sorrowful, almost contrite man.
But not for long.
Just one year later, in 2003, Deri, still sounding chastened, announced that he might seek his political fortunes again after all, ostensibly at the insistence of entreating adherents who complained that his absence created a vacuum he must fill. Yet the crowds who saw him off to prison failed to clamor for his comeback.
Deri tried to run for the Jerusalem mayoralty in 2008, claiming that the moral turpitude imposed on him as part of his conviction, and which prevented him from holding elected office, had expired six years after his release. The courts ruled that the countdown began the day his full term would have ended – were it not for time off for good behavior.
Following that Deri took yet another stab at politics, thereby ripping off once and for all the mask of a sainted martyr and overnight ascetic. That was when he began his campaign to retake control Shas.
All this reveals a man who, his meek pose notwithstanding, could not wait to reappear on center stage.
There is clearly a problem with Deri’s concept of veracity, not only with his past criminality.
The Israeli body politic owes a great debt of gratitude to the politicians who after the last election blocked his co-option into the governing coalition. Deri in 2013 spared no effort to upgrade his comeback into a clout-laden ministerial appointment. He could well have had a crucial say once more about who formed the government and which policies it pursued.
There is no guarantee that coalition-formation machinations after the upcoming election will not pave his way back to executive power.
Foremost, obviously, Deri should be rejected on cogent moral grounds by his own former disciples. That would be the decisive cap to his sordid political saga.
Failing that, however, in the long run Israel’s democracy could greatly benefit from legislation to permanently preempt the return to the Knesset or to ministerial office of any convict, especially one who bears the stigma of moral turpitude.