Deri and Yishai at Knesset 370.
(photo credit: Marc Israel Sellem/The Jerusalem Post)
According to the letter of the law, there is nothing wrong with reinstalling the
charismatic ex-con, Arye Deri, at the helm of Shas.
Besides, Shas appears
to operate in its own unique ethical universe. Its mentor, Rabbi Ovadia Yosef,
brushed aside all criticism by averring that “the party had merely returned to
Deri a deposit that had been entrusted to it for safekeeping,” while he served
time in prison and later waited out the mandatory cooling-off period before he
could reenter the political fray.
In other words, the party leadership
was Deri’s rightful property, one that he could reclaim when the time was
Therefore, no injustice was presumably wrought to Eli Yishai,
although he ably led Shas in Deri’s absence.
Yishai had thereby accrued
no rights. He was a dispensable caretaker.
All that may be convincing in
Shas’s internal system of logic, but in the broader Israeli context the question
remains whether what is not preventable by strict legalistic criteria is
perforce acceptable by civic standards.
Deri was not prosecuted because
of a forgivable slipup. In his case, a deeper moral lapse appears to have been
involved. He added insult to injury by obstructing the course of justice and by
fomenting demonstrations via divisive ethnic propaganda – likely to intimidate
Therefore, it is only natural to wonder whether he is
truly a reformed character, who no longer plays fast and loose with the
Our doubts are accentuated by the fact that when Deri was released
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 machinations at which he was an accomplished past
Henceforth, he proclaimed, he would stoically and altruistically
focus on his spiritual side. Any future 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 individual. But not for
Just one year later, in 2003, Deri, still sounding like a chastened
man, announced that he might reenter politics after all, ostensibly at the
insistence of adherents who insist that his absence creates a vacuum he must
fill. Yet the crowds who saw him off to prison failed to clamor for his
Next, 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 executive office, had expired six years after
his release. The courts argued that the countdown begins after the date his full
term would have ended – were it not for time off for good
Following that, Deri took yet another stab at politics, ripping
off once and for all the mask of a sainted martyr and overnight ascetic. That
was when he began his campaign to take over Shas.
All this reveals a man
who, his meek pose notwithstanding, could not wait to reappear on center
There is clearly a problem with Deri’s concept of veracity, not
only with his past criminality.
It is here that the Israeli body politic
owes a great debt of gratitude to the Yesh Atid-Bayit Yehudi parliamentary front
for blocking Shas’s cooption into the coalition. Deri spared no effort to
upgrade his comeback into a clout-laden ministerial
Thankfully, two new players – Yair Lapid and Naftali Bennett
– adroitly outmaneuvered Deri.
Had they not played hardball, Deri could
well have had a crucial say once more about who formed the government and which
policies it would pursue. True, Deri wasn’t the Lapid-Bennet duo’s direct
target. His exclusion from the coalition constitutes a bonus, but that is
nothing to scoff at. There is a gaping difference between dealing with Deri or
Given Shas’s shenanigans, in the long run the body politic could
greatly benefit from legislation to permanently preempt the return to the
Knesset or ministerial office of any convict, especially one with a moral
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