Go away: Arye Deri should quit Israeli politics forever and stay home - opinion

I conjecture that Deri would sell every Judea and Samaria settler to the Saudis, twice over, if that were to earn Shas-affiliated schools a 2% budget increase.

 ARYE DERI is escorted outside his home in Jerusalem on Wednesday. (photo credit: YONATAN SINDEL/FLASH90)
ARYE DERI is escorted outside his home in Jerusalem on Wednesday.
(photo credit: YONATAN SINDEL/FLASH90)

Whether or not this week’s Supreme Court decision regarding Arye Deri’s legal right to serve as a minister in the cabinet is right or justified, Deri should resign immediately and stay home permanently. His ruinous record in politics is without peer.

Shas leader Deri is an extreme expression of pugnacious haredi power; a super-self-confidant politician who bulldozes over all legal, civic and moral boundaries to “bolster” (read: enfeeble) his haredi voting public. His brand of blithely sectorial, brusquely cynical politics has been catastrophic.

What are Arye Deri's many crimes against Israel?

Deri was one of the father figures of the haredi world of dependency, of living off the dole. He was central to the creation of the all-encompassing government-support system for those studying in yeshiva – a system so comprehensive that it simply does not pay for a kollel student to step out into the working world.

He has never spoken positively about the higher education and professional training programs for ultra-Orthodox men and women that have opened in recent years, nor has he said one word about the importance of increased participation of haredi men in the army.

 Health Minister Arye Deri (credit: GOVERNMENT PRESS OFFICE) Health Minister Arye Deri (credit: GOVERNMENT PRESS OFFICE)

Deri also is directly culpable for turning Rabbi Ovadia Yosef, of blessed memory, away from his earlier path of religious and political moderation. He whispered wicked things into the ears of Rav Ovadia, as needed, about religious Zionist, Russian and Reform Jews, and secular politicians.

Deri probably was the person who suggested that Rav Ovadia call Naftali Bennett’s Bayit Yehudi party the “Bayit (home) of Goyim,” not the “Bayit of Jews.”

Deri also was behind the infamous, racist “Kochavit Giyur” (Dial-a-Conversion) advertising campaign that Shas ran several election campaigns ago. This campaign smeared Russian olim as counterfeit converts, and slandered religious Zionist rabbis as liberal destroyers of conversion standards.

Deri spawned the failed “stinking maneuver” in 1990, which attempted to bring down the unity government led by prime minister Yitzhak Shamir and install a narrow Shimon Peres government instead. Then, Deri purchased the Labor Party’s support for haredi takeover of state religious enterprises (such as the Chief Rabbinate and religious courts) by backing the Oslo process – until Palestinian terrorism made it too difficult for Shas voters to stomach this.

I conjecture that Deri would sell every Judea and Samaria settler to the Saudis, twice over, if that were to earn Shas-affiliated schools a 2% budget increase.

THE FACT that Deri has been caught in criminal violations more than once and gone to jail has not stopped him. He brushes this off by presenting himself as a persecuted Dreyfus and wronged Demjanjuk rolled into one, and as a holy man whose concern for the poor will bring salvation to the downtrodden of Israel.

He seditiously plays the ethnic card, with him being discriminated against as a franck (a poor, marginalized Sephardic Jew), this week again too. He has no problem cynically inflaming ethnic tensions in this way, even though it is of course ridiculous for Deri to claim marginalization. If anybody has been in the privileged political driver’s seat for the past 25 years, as opposed to being victimized, it is Arye Deri.

Arye Deri's staunch defiance against COVID restrictions

More recently, Deri led and defended the haredi community’s separatist and defiant response to the government’s coronavirus restrictions, fiercely objecting in the cabinet to application of the “red light” system of differential lockdowns. This is because hard-hit haredi communities would be most affected, and would constitute “persecution of haredi people,” he argued. As a result, Prime Minister Netanyahu repeatedly imposed country-wide lockdowns – unnecessarily, unfairly, and to great harm.

Deri also defended the fact that many haredi schools stayed open throughout the lockdowns, while the rest of the country’s children were forced to learn on Zoom.

His successful attempts to “soften plan after plan” of the Health Ministry relating to the coronavirus pandemic continued into planning for the Lag Ba’omer festivities in Meron in 2021.

According to Deri’s long-time personal aide, Yosef Schwinger, Deri “fought like a lion” to have the event go ahead, despite Health Ministry warnings that it could be a coronavirus super-spreader event. “Rabbi Deri deserves credit for saving the Lag Ba’omer celebration from a more limited format,” avowed Schwinger on the radio the day before the stampede tragedy in which 45 Israelis were killed.

“Rabbi Deri deserves credit for saving the Lag Ba’omer celebration from a more limited format.”

Yosef Schwinger

Deri himself went on the radio on Lag Ba’omer morning to boast of his “achievement” and encourage anybody and everybody to participate in Meron festivities. “Bad things don’t happen to Jews on a religious pilgrimage,” Deri pompously declared. “One should trust in Rabbi Shimon (Bar Yochai) in times of distress.”

Apparently, neither the righteous and long-deceased Rabbi Shimon nor the much less righteous and hard-kicking Arye Deri can be relied upon to protect the Israeli public (including the haredi public) from the rash and reckless mistakes made in recent decades, as described above.

THE ROOT cause of all these disasters lies in the aggressive assertion of autonomy by the haredi community – autonomy from the broader Israeli world in everything from education and national service to coronavirus lockdowns and safety regulations.

Any time Israeli leaders seek to nudge the haredi community, for its own good and for the good of the entire country, toward compliance with logical and necessary norms – haredi politicians cry “gevalt,” with Deri leading the charge. This includes simple things like studying math, science and civics; going to work; contributing to the national security burden; upholding building standards in haredi neighborhoods and health guidelines in haredi communities.

Deri and his gang term such ideas as “czarist decrees” or “persecution,” and then protest violently in the streets, claiming to be victims of a domineering and decadent secular leadership.

In fact, it is the haredi community that has become a dominant political force in this country. It is secular politicians who are afraid of haredi political power, not the opposite. Alas, this has allowed haredi politicians to carve out an increasingly autonomous and ruinous society for themselves.

Everybody knows that had Meron, for example, been treated like any other site of mass gathering like a music concert, soccer game, or political rally – police safety regulations would have limited attendance to 10,000-20,000 people. Never would have 100,000 people been allowed into the site, not to mention the 250,000 worshipers and revelers who have attended in previous years.

But who is going to dare try to impose such restrictions upon powerful haredi politicians and their belligerent, often anti-Zionist, rabbinical masters?

Deri should be slammed with responsibility for these many ideological, communal policy and management failures, and be shamed out of politics once and for all. I am certain that the biblical prophet Isaiah had Arye Deri specifically in mind when he warned that “Your ministers are rebellious and companions of thieves; they all love bribes and pursue perks…” (Isaiah 1:23).

“Your ministers are rebellious and companions of thieves; they all love bribes and pursue perks…”

Isaiah 1:23

But of course, I suspect that even if now forced to resign from his two senior ministerial positions (interior and health), and to forgo the coalition plan to make him finance minister two years from now, Deri has no plans to truly exit Israeli politics.

He resigned once before (in 2014) from the Knesset and from Shas party leadership, but that was just another maneuver meant to re-catapult the wheeling-dealing Deri back into the driver’s seat.

And last year, he got a soft plea bargain deal from the court when being convicted (again) of tax fraud – by telling the court that he no longer intended to pursue public office.

For this most recent dissimilation, the Supreme Court this week applied the legal principle of hashtek, meaning shut up. You, Arye Deri, have no right to make any political or legal claim before this court, the justices wrote.

Unfortunately, I expect that we will see Deri back soon as speaker of the Knesset or as alternate prime minister, following some fancy and patently immoral political maneuvers by his current coalition partners.

The writer is a senior fellow at The Kohelet Forum and at Israel’s Defense and Security Forum (Habithonistim). The views expressed here are his own. His diplomatic, defense, political, and Jewish world columns over the past 26 years are archived at davidmweinberg.com.