Shas party leadership still hangs in the balance

Mediation efforts between bitter rivals Eli Yishai and Arye Deri continue; no decision would mean Rabbi Yosef to rule on matter.

Ariel Attias and Arye Deri 370 (photo credit: Oren Nahshon/Flash90)
Ariel Attias and Arye Deri 370
(photo credit: Oren Nahshon/Flash90)
Eli Yishai and Arye Deri, bitter rivals for the political leadership of the Shas party, shook hands on Sunday at the brit mila of a great-grandson of Shas spiritual leader Rabbi Ovadia Yosef.
Deri, the founder and former leader of Shas, is seeking to return to his position as party chairman 13 years after his conviction and incarceration for accepting bribes.
Current chairman and Interior Minister Yishai refuses to vacate his position as the most senior Shas politician, however, which has led to rampant speculation over the future of the party’s leadership.
On Sunday morning, the two adversaries stood shoulder to shoulder throughout the ceremony but did not exchange words or even look at each other.
After the service was complete Yishai approached Yosef, who served as sandak (one who holds the child on his lap during the ritual), and was warmly greeted by the rabbi with playful slaps to the face.
Deri received similar treatment after Yishai had moved away, with the two shaking hands perfunctorily a short while after the ceremony.
Mediation efforts between Yishai and Deri are ongoing in order to arrive at an arrangement where both politicians can agree to run in the coming elections together. If they do not reach an agreement soon, Yosef is expected to rule on the matter and declare one of them party leader.
Deri remains extremely popular with Shas voters and many inside the party despite his jail sentence for corruption.
Yosef, however, is reluctant to depose Yishai, despite a promise made to Deri, before he went to prison, that he would return as party leader.
Religious Services Minister Ya’acov Margi told Channel 2 on Sunday that Yishai will remain Shas leader for the coming elections, and if Deri wanted to return as number two in the party the door would be open to him.
“Under no circumstances will Eli [Yishai] play second fiddle to Deri,” Margi said.
Deri has publicly touted the possibility of establishing his own party if he is not able to return to Shas as party chairman – although Margi suggested this is merely a tactic to pressure the Shas leadership into allowing him to take up the leadership mantle.