Stepping over the Shas line

One more thing is required of a successful politician: the ability to quickly identify an obstacle in one’s path.

Aryeh Deri
Politics is an art. We may not always like its dark sides, but to succeed in the political world, one has to be multi-talented. Even that is not always enough, as luck can help a lot as well.
And one more thing is required of a successful politician: the ability to quickly identify an obstacle in one’s path.
All that to discuss the case of the rising star of the Shas list on the city council, who apparently failed to recognize an obstacle in time.
Michael Malchieli, a young but prominent Shas councilman, had been almost unanimously considered someone who would go far and reach higher positions in the party, eventually even on the national level.
Malchieli was the personal choice of powerful Shas leader MK Arye Deri, who introduced big changes to the list following Shas’s former council head Eli Simhayoff’s being sent to prison on the grounds of corruption in the Holyland affair.
With Simhayoff (who was never very close to him) in prison; Shlomi Attias out of public affairs, as he had been appointed CEO of the Company for the Reconstruction and Development of the Jewish Quarter; and a third former city council member busy trying to prove his innocence in a corruption case in court, Deri had, for the first time in many years, the opportunity to form a new list. It would be made up of young members totally loyal to him to serve on the council where the Shas list was created some 30 years ago.
Malchieli was slated to be the new young pledge for that goal, still not the leader of the list but with a promising future in his political career.
And then it all collapsed. Inside the Shas rows, Malchieli’s misstep is considered almost unforgivable.
He didn’t make any of the mistakes of his predecessors – no bribes, no corruption, no breaking of the law. He simply didn’t show up for a crucial vote on the city council, and not just any crucial vote. At the last meeting on February 25, one of the issues on the agenda was the attempt of the haredi benches – all within the coalition – to prohibit the opening of restaurants and other businesses on Shabbat at the First Station.
For a long time, the First Station with its businesses that are open on Shabbat has been a thorn in the side of the haredi sector, and repeated attempts have been made to change the situation. Moreover, many haredi city council members believe that as long as these establishments remain open on the day of rest, more and more businesses will “dare” to do the same in other locations, as has indeed happened.
For reasons that remain unclear (although rumors have been flying), Malchieli didn’t show up for the council meeting, and the pluralistic lists voted for the businesses to be open on Shabbat – and Deri is furious with him.
Deri is not the only one who is angered by Malchieli’s absence. Haredi representatives from the Ashkenazi lists didn’t miss the opportunity to voice their opinion about Malchieli’s “lack of accountability,” expressed earlier this week by a United Torah Judaism member, hinting, not for the first time, that Shas was not reliable enough when it came to such serious matters.
Meanwhile, while Malchieli’s Shas colleagues on the city council have kept silent, Deri doesn’t seem to need any help in preparing to retaliate.
And retaliation has certainly been forthcoming. The day after the council meeting, Malchieli ran to the head of the Shas rabbinical council to try to explain himself and obtain some kind of indulgence, but he was not even allowed to step inside the rabbi’s house and had to leave immediately.
Deri was more decisive and practical. In a brief phone conversation, he simply announced to Malchieli that he had decided to dismiss him in the coming days.
Sources inside Shas at Safra Square and outside the council say this is not the end of the story. Malchieli is also the closest assistant to Avi Amsalem, a leading figure at the Religious Services Ministry. The ministry is of great importance to the haredim, who are working to reverse the government’s decision to open a part of the Western Wall to liberal Jewish streams; Deri and the Ashkenazi haredi MKs need the full cooperation of Amsalem to push their plan forward.
Needless to say, this is not the time to impose and ask Amsalem to renounce Malchieli, his faithful assistant.