Corridors of Power: The Bukharan connection

Yehoshua Pollack's gaffe didn't offend Shas, but it did lead to a surprising revelation.

Last week, the new financial daily Kalkalist revealed that two of Mayor Uri Lupolianski's deputies - Shmuel Shkedi (NRP) and Eli Simhayoff (Shas) - serve on the board of directors of one of Uzbek-born diamond tycoon Lev Leviev's companies, hinting at a possible conflict of interests since Leviev's construction companies are involved in large building projects in the city. Opposition leader Nir Barkat immediately issued a response to the report, stating that the mayor would have to give satisfactory answers to this clear-cut case of a conflict of interests, and he asked city attorney Yossi Havilio to publish a legal ruling. The ensuing chaos began with deputy mayor and mayoral candidate Yehoshua Pollack's gaffe. In response to a question from a Kalkalist reporter, Pollack said that he was not aware of Shkedi and Simhayoff's membership on the board of one of Leviev's companies, and added that he only knew that Leviev and Simhayoff were "both Bukharan." "I'm sure he [Pollack] didn't mean me any harm," Simhayoff later said in response. "He just got carried away." Let's take a closer look at the situation on the ground. What we have is a media report saying that two deputy mayors, both with monthly salaries of approximately NIS 40,000, are doing some stints in Leviev's local business. According to the clarifications submitted by the Small and Medium Business Authority, Leviev is "kosher" in this case. The municipality, however, still has to prove the same, since both deputies are also replacing other city councilors on the Planning Committee, which of course deals with Leviev's construction projects in the city. Shkedi immediately explained to the Kalkalist reporter that his nomination was former mayor Ehud Olmert's decision, and that he was in no way involved in any other of Leviev's businesses. But Simhayoff's position is more complicated, and thus much more interesting. Back to Pollack's words: Jerusalem's Bukharan community, with Leviev's financial support, has recently revived many structures and institutions in the Bukharan Quarter. Simhayoff has a singular way of describing his relationship with Leviev, who recently moved to London: "I am his man in Jerusalem," he told this reporter this week. During our conversation, Simhayoff revealed another juicy tidbit. While everybody is busy with the debate inside United Torah Judaism as to the party's next mayoral candidate, "the real surprise could come from Shas, which could decide to run separately, since we do not have these kind of internal debates," Simhayoff revealed. Asked to be more specific, Simhayoff added: "Who said that only Ashkenazi haredim can run a candidate for mayor in this city? Here's your scoop: Shas will probably run a candidate of its own." Simhayoff, eager to maintain the suspense, or perhaps already a master in spin, refused at the last moment to reveal if Shas's candidate would be former party leader Aryeh Deri, with whom Simhayoff is close, or himself. Simhayoff's colleague, list head Shlomi Attias, however, said he was not aware of a Shas candidate for mayor. "Of course if we run with Deri, we could completely change the local picture," Attias said. "But let me tell you this, I am not close to Leviev and I don't even say, like so many others, that I am close to Deri, but I do know what's going on inside Shas: We are not at that point."