UTJ's Gafni issues sharp rebuke of Shas's Deri

Gafni questions Deri's political credentials, draws attention to his past conviction for accepting bribes, in panel discussion.

MK Moshe Gafni (UTJ) 311 (photo credit: Marc Israel Sellem)
MK Moshe Gafni (UTJ) 311
(photo credit: Marc Israel Sellem)
Senior United Torah Judaism MK Moshe Gafni has spoken out harshly against Shas leader Arye Deri during a panel discussion between haredi political leaders, questioning his political credentials and drawing attention to his past conviction for accepting bribes.
In a thinly veiled reference to the criminal convictions of Deri and other Shas leaders, Gafni claimed that no UTJ leaders had ever been suspected or convicted of any crime.
“They [UTJ politicians] don’t look out for themselves, they look out for the general community,” he added.
Tensions between the two haredi parties have grown since Deri returned to the high echelons of the Shas leadership last month.
Eli Yishai, party chairman until Deri’s return, is seen by UTJ as having taken the party further towards its ultra-Orthodox positions and policies. At the same time, Deri’s renewed prominence in Shas is causing concern in the Ashkenazi haredi party that issues critical to it will be abandoned – or given less prominence – by Shas in the next Knesset.
During the debate, Gafni took a swipe at Deri’s political competence, commenting that during the recent coalition crisis over the issue of drafting haredi men into the army, he asked Deri to intervene with Yisrael Beytenu leader Avigdor Liberman, a strong advocate of haredi enlistment but with whom Deri is friendly, in order to resolve the situation.
“He tried [to help], but unfortunately, he didn’t succeed in helping us,” Gafni noted.
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Several UTJ politicians have recently pointed to the close cooperation the party enjoyed with Shas during the outgoing Knesset over issues such as haredi military service, civil marriage, conversion and similar matters, and praised Yishai for facilitating this collaboration.
Since his return to front line politics, Deri has himself stoked tensions with UTJ – with comments about alleged discrimination in Ashkenazi schools against Sephardi girls, a sensitive issue for the Shas party, as well as UTJ.
Soon after the historic agreement which brought Deri back to the party as joint leader with Yishai and Construction and Housing Minister Ariel Attias, he said in a radio interview that he would wage war against schools discriminating against Sephardim and work to have their funding cut off.
Gafni struck back against the claims of discrimination during Tuesday’s panel discussion, saying that he had recently been involved in efforts to get an Ashkenazi schoolgirl a placement in an Ashkenazi school, only to be told that the seminar was full because, according to Gafni “they accepted all the daughters of Shas leaders.”
Following publication of his comments, Gafni went on the haredi radio station Kol Berama to “clarify” his comments, saying that they were misunderstood and that he and Deri are friends and have promised to continue the close cooperation between Shas and UTJ.