As 7-year ban ends, Deri mulls forming new movement

Petition to Mazuz: Bar former Shas leader from politics for another year.

aryeh deri 224.88 AJ (photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski)
aryeh deri 224.88 AJ
(photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski)
Former Shas leader Arye Deri will begin his political comeback on Wednesday with a symbolic statement: He will mark the first day in seven years when he is legally permitted to engage in political activity by doing - nothing. Deri has decided not to draw attention to the end of his court sentence for bribery, which barred him from politics for seven years because the crime constituted "moral turpitude and disgrace." He has never admitted his guilt and does not intend to start now by marking Wednesday's milestone. "When I look in the mirror, I see no shame," Deri recently told a close follower. "I see an innocent man." But Deri has hinted to confidants that he will soon form a new socioeconomic movement that will work to bridge gaps between rich and poor and among Jews of all levels of religious observance. He will announce the movement's formation after the traditional three-week mourning period that ends with Tisha Be'av on July 30, and perhaps only after the fall holidays that end October 10. In a recent meeting with a group of fervent supporters, Deri pleaded for patience. He said he was definitely returning to politics and that he had a plan, but would not announce it until the time was ripe. The movement will not be presented as political, at least not at first, to avoid offending Shas mentor Rabbi Ovadia Yosef. When Deri was removed from the party leadership a decade ago the rabbi pledged he would return to the post, but he is said to be pleased with current Shas chairman Eli Yishai and so this promise is expected to be broken. Deri's political comeback will reignite political tension in Shas between supporters of Yishai and Deri. While the former has the support of Shas's Council of Torah Sages, the latter is much more popular among the party's rank-and-file. "We want Deri to go to Rabbi Ovadia and insist on him honoring his commitment that he would return like Joseph after leaving prison," one Deri supporter said. But Deri's closest aides said he intends to show respect toward the rabbi, continuing his political comeback gradually. They said he has not made up his mind about whether to turn his new movement into a political party or to try to unseat Yishai ahead of the next election and return to the leadership of the party he led to a record 17 mandates in the 1999 election. Deri, 50, started his political career as director-general of the Interior Ministry at age 27. Two years later he was elected to the Knesset at the top of the Shas list and became interior minister. An investigation into improprieties in the ministry began in 1990. He was convicted in March 1999 and started serving his three-year sentence in September 2000. He served less than two years due to good behavior and was released July 15, 2002. The Movement for Quality Government petitioned Attorney-General Menahem Mazuz on Tuesday, asking him to bar Deri from entering politics for another year until seven years after Deri's sentence was completed. Deri's supporters expressed outrage that after waiting so long for his return yet another legal obstacle could prevent his comeback. "There has been a holy war of the establishment against Arye Deri and it's not over yet," a close Deri supporter said. "But they can't tell the public what to think, and they won't be able to prevent him from going all the way to the top." Dan Izenberg contributed to this report.