Analysis: Shas dealt a blow in Israel municipal elections

The loss of Elad is humiliating to party chief Deri, given city’s haredi Sephardi majority and history of Shas mayors.

Arye Deri 370 (photo credit: Marc Israel Sellem/The Jerusalem Post)
Arye Deri 370
(photo credit: Marc Israel Sellem/The Jerusalem Post)
Shas leader Arye Deri suffered a double blow on Tuesday night with the defeat of two of his mayoral candidates: Moshe Lion in Jerusalem and Tzuriel Krispal in Elad.
Deri was heavily invested in both of those campaigns, with the race for Jerusalem bound up, according to the Shas chairman, with his plans to dismantle the perceived antiharedi national coalition with the help of close friend and Lion patron Yisrael Beytenu chairman Avigdor Liberman.
The loss of Elad is particularly humiliating to Deri, given the city’s haredi Sephardi majority and its history of Shas mayors.
The two defeats come at an inopportune time for Deri, just two weeks after the death of Shas spiritual leader and ultimate party authority Rabbi Ovadia Yosef.
Tensions and undercurrents within the Sephardi party are such that any political defeat could be taken as an opportunity by Deri’s opponents, such as former chairman MK Eli Yishai, to begin sharpening their knives.
The defeat in Elad will be especially painful for the Shas chairman. He invested significant efforts in rallying voters in the city but was ultimately unsuccessful.
Deri held a huge rally in Elad on Sunday night to boost morale and voter turnout, where newly minted member of the Shas Council of Torah Sages and Yosef’s son Rabbi David Yosef spoke passionately about his father’s anger that Agudat Yisrael candidate Yisrael Porush was running for mayor. Deri returned to Elad on Tuesday night to get out the vote in a last gasp effort to prevent the city from slipping from his grasp.
But although disgruntled elements within the party will likely seek to blame Deri for the setbacks, the Shas chairman has managed to successfully place himself at the center of the party machine following the death of Yosef and, critically, has shored up family support for him and his leadership.
Although the primary power source, Yosef senior, is gone, his son Yitzhak Yosef is now safely ensconced in the seat of the chief rabbi, empowered by the symbolism of his ceremonial hat and cloak.
Deri worked hard to have Yitzhak Yosef elected, elbowing aside then-chief rabbi Shlomo Amar in the process.
And the memorial service marking the last day of the shiva mourning period for Yosef was a master class in political stage management. David Yosef, in an emotional and powerful speech, said explicitly that Deri was the man anointed by his father to lead the party into the future, as did senior member of the Council of Torah Sages Rabbi Shalom Cohen.
In addition, the ire of Amar, a potentially powerful opponent who now bears significant grievance against Deri, was tempered somewhat by allowing him to give a eulogy to Yosef at the memorial service, something denied to him at the funeral procession on October 7.
And Yishai, whom Deri pushed aside when he reclaimed the leadership of the party last year, was not mentioned even once at the event, much less allowed to take to the stage and speak.
Despite the political blows dealt to Deri and Shas on Tuesday night in the municipal elections, his grip on the party will not be easily pried lose anytime soon.