Corridors of power: End of a reign

The Jerusalem city council is on the verge of being the first in 30 years without a Shas representative.

Arye Deri at the President's residence 370 (photo credit: Marc Israel Sellem/The Jerusalem Post)
Arye Deri at the President's residence 370
(photo credit: Marc Israel Sellem/The Jerusalem Post)
If nothing dramatic happens within the next few days, Jerusalem’s next city council might be the witness to an incredible political development. The cradle in which the Sephardi haredi movement Shas was born in 1982, this council is on the verge of being the first in 30 years without a Shas representative. Not that the presence of the movement has really diminished that much – but following internal quarrels, intrigues and a lot of bad blood, barely two months before the elections, Shas has no list of candidates for the council.
As to how the movement has reached this low-tide situation, there are about as many explanations as there are voters for the party. Yet the only fact relevant at present, according to sources within the party, is that none of the current counselors will continue as such.
This is the surprising situation despite the fact that MK Arye Deri, the most powerful Shas man ever, is now at its head. In this council, Shas dropped from five seats during mayor Uri Lupolianski’s tenure to four, but most political observers believe that in the October 22 elections, Shas will obtain at least five seats if not more.
So how is it that a party’s forecast sounds good, but the facts on the ground indicate a complete disintegration of the list, including the prominent absence of its city council leader? Inside sources say that this embarrassing state of affairs is happening despite Deri paying much attention to the municipal elections, and more specifically, the city’s elections.
“One thing is sure,” points out the source, “the aim is to change completely the personae – Deri is adamant about renewing the members of the list from scratch, first for internal political reasons, and second because it is no secret that the feeling is that these people didn’t deliver the goods expected from them by the party.”
A closer look at the list gives us a few additional explanations.
The first objective is evidently to compile a list in which there will be no remnant of the former defeated leader, Eli Yishai, but there’s more. Deri is one of the two powerful men who stand behind the candidacy of Moshe Lion for mayor. The other is MK Avigdor Liberman, one of Deri’s friends. The question of how a haredi like Deri can be the friend of a man who launched the campaign to enlist the haredim to the IDF is moot. “Politics has its own rules” says the source, “the two are indeed friends.”
Deri and Liberman have a common goal in the municipal elections – to replace Mayor Nir Barkat through the candidacy of Moshe Lion, who is very close to Liberman, and also a Sephardi (like Deri) and religious (albeit not haredi). Deri needs reliable men representing Shas at the city council. The first one to be axed was the leader of the list – Eli Simhayoff. Never close to Deri, Simhayoff’s patron was Rabbi Reuven Elbaz, famous in haredi Sephardi society for bringing unobservant Jews into the fold.
Elbaz has a somewhat independent status in the party, which automatically turned Simhayoff into a less reliable pillar. On top of this, Simhayoff is still under investigation for his alleged part in the Holyland affair. As a result, he was the first to be wiped off the new list. Deri badly (and urgently) needs a “name.” Sources say he asked former deputy mayor Shlomi Atias to come back to the political scene. So far Atias does not seem to be planning to report for duty. Some names among the group that surrounded and supported Deri during his time in prison, years ago, have been bandied about – none of them has accepted.
“Since clearly Shas will be part of the next coalition, (if Lion wins, they will team with him automatically, and if Barkat wins he will need them to form a coalition) there has been talk of persuading one of the party’s MKs to leave the Knesset and come rescue the local list, but until now, no one risen to the challenge.