Shas leader Arye Deri, who was convicted of tax offenses on Tuesday, alleged at a Knesset news conference on Wednesday that he was targeted due to racism.
Deri said he did not wish on anyone what he endured in the seven-year investigation, and noted that the probe began with a bribery charge and ended up with a minor offense.
“My blood and the blood of my family was spilled for seven years,” he said. “Months after the probe started, the police knew there was no proof of bribery.”
Deri said that even attorney-general Avichai Mandelblit admitted that the mountain of his case did not even yield a small molehill.
“Everyone knows that if my name was not Arye Machluf Deri, it would have ended with me paying a fee to a tax clerk,” he said, suggesting he would have been treated more leniently if his name didn’t sound Moroccan. “I wasn’t charged with taking an agora or tricking the tax authorities.”
He confessed to tax crimes in two separate cases, and was only allowed to remain chairman of Shas because he agreed to quit the Knesset. In 1999, Deri was convicted of bribery, fraud and breach of trust, and given a three-year jail sentence.
Deri vowed to remain Shas chairman and use that post to continue fighting the government. However, he said he would not agree to break the opposition’s boycott on Knesset committees. Shas is supposed to receive the chairmanship of the Knesset Immigration, Absorption and Diaspora Affairs Committee.
“If we accepted the chairmanship of the committee, as important as it is, we would give legitimacy to the majority abusing its power over the minority,” he said.
Deri blamed the rise in the cost of living on Finance Minister Avigdor Liberman, whom he accused of raising taxes out of revenge against the haredim (ultra-Orthodox.)
The Ministerial Committee on Legislation will vote on Sunday on a bill that would double the cooling-off period from the Knesset for offenses deemed to have moral turpitude from seven to 14 years. The bill, sponsored by New Hope MK Michal Shir, is intended to target opposition leader Benjamin Netanyahu. Deri said it would not apply to him.
“I am not going anywhere,” he said. “I am in my guard post as head of Shas, and will fight from the party office and the Knesset. My friends and I are committed to toppling this wicked government. Shas knows how to fight in the opposition.”