Should Arye Deri be interior minister despite having served 22 months in jail for corruption?

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April 12, 2015 21:14
4 minute read.
Aryeh Deri

Aryeh Deri. (photo credit: MARC ISRAEL SELLEM/THE JERUSALEM POST)

 
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What does Shas leader Arye Deri have in common with the former Sheffield United and Wales international soccer player Chad Evans? Both are convicted criminals – Deri for corruption; Evans for rape – but what interests me lies not in their similarities (both men have also consistently maintained their innocence and, for all I know, Deri might also have scored numerous hat-tricks in his youth) but rather in wider society’s response to their return to public life after their release from jail.

There is no prohibition on British professional footballers returning to the sport after spending time inside, and a number of players have in fact done so, most notably England international Joey Barton, who served a six-month sentence for common assault and affray. And yet Evans has been unable to find a club willing to employ him since his release from jail last year.

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This is not because no club wants him.

While still in prison, Sheffield United officials held talks with him concerning his return to the team, with the club’s chairman and manager even visiting him to discuss the future. But what the club failed to take into account was the reaction of the team’s supporters to Evans’ planned return.

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When news broke that Evans could rejoin the Sheffield club, a petition was signed by 150,000 people urging the club not to employ him, stating that it would be a “deep insult to the woman who was raped and to all women like her who have suffered at the hands of a rapist.” British Olympic hero Jessica Ennis-Hill, who has a stand named after her at the club’s Bramall Lane stadium, meanwhile said she would want her name removed from the ground if Evans were signed by the club.

And once Sheffield United dropped their plans to sign Evans, other clubs held serious talks about signing but these all fizzled out following not just pressure from the relevant club’s fans but, and probably more significantly, club sponsors who threatened to pull out their money should the planned signing go ahead.

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As of today, Evans is still without a club and unable to ply his trade, despite there being no legal obstacle to his being able to do so.

ARYE DERI, meanwhile, is now within spitting distance of the Interior Ministry, the place which led to his sentencing to three years in jail on corruption charges back in the year 2000. Deri served 22 months of his sentence, and later returned to politics following the end of the seven-year period from which he was banned from holding public office due to his conviction.

So there is no legal reason to prevent Deri’s return as interior minister. But surely there’s an argument to be made which says that a person who took $155,000 in bribes while serving as interior minister should forfeit the country’s trust in ever holding a ministerial position again.

Let’s not forget, the crime of which Deri was convicted involved directing public money to a private institution (in this case, a yeshiva) for which he then received a generous kickback. As the judge who convicted him said, “It was as if Deri received a tithing of the money given to the yeshiva, and often it was much more than 10 percent.”

But aside from former finance minister Yair Lapid, nobody has spoken out against the prospect of Deri once again having billions of shekels of public funds under his control. This is not sour grapes on Lapid’s part, or an anti-haredi (ultra-Orthodox) or anti-Mizrachi stance; I have no doubt he would say the same of any politician for whom the judges wrote in their verdict: “This is not an isolated failure on the part of a young politician who was recently exposed to power, but a person who consistently led a life based on corruption.”

It is one thing for Deri to have a sufficiently brass neck to put his corrupt past behind him and again offer himself to the Israeli public as a guardian of the public purse, but where is the indignation from the rest of the country to the more-than-likely possibility of Deri’s return to the Interior Ministry? In an ideal world, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu would of course tell Deri that, due to his criminal past, there can be no senior ministerial position for him in his future government, but it’s wrong to expect Netanyahu to act to standards of clean government that nobody is holding him to.

In the end, the shame of Deri’s return to front-line ministerial politics lies not with Deri or the person who appoints him, but with the silent majority who, by their passivity, allow the former criminal to return to the scene of his crime.

The writer is a former editor-in-chief of The Jerusalem Post.

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