Deri’s danger

All available indications cast grave doubts on the whether Deri has indeed undergone a transformation.

Arye Deri_521 (photo credit: Reuters)
Arye Deri_521
(photo credit: Reuters)
According to the dry letter of the law, ex-con Arye Deri, Shas’s erstwhile leader, is no longer barred from reentering the political fray and stirring up his unique hubbub. The question to be asked, though, is whether what isn’t preventable by strict legalistic criteria is perforce acceptable by civic standards.
Was Deri merely prosecuted because of a forgivable slip-up or was a deeper ethical lapse involved? Is Deri truly a reformed character? Can we trust that he no longer plays fast and loose with the truth? We need to know because he could well have a crucial say once more on who forms the next governing coalition and which policies that coalition would pursue. This is tantamount to hiring the proverbial released child molester to work in a school.
All available indications cast grave doubts on the whether Deri has indeed undergone a transformation.
His credibility isn’t bolstered by his alacrity not only to reenter the Knesset but also to replace current Shas leader Eli Yishai.
When Deri was released in 2002 – after serving two years for bribe-taking and breach of trust – the ex-minister and power-broker announced melodramatically that he had lost all interest in the political machinations at which he was an accomplished past master.
Henceforth, he proclaimed, he’d stoically and altruistically focus on his spiritual side. Any future celebrity status would be that of the agonized religious figure.
Indeed, for a while, Deri’s outward demeanor was that of a very introspective, sorrowful, almost contrite individual. But not for long.
Just one year later, in 2003, Deri, still sounding like a chastened man, announced that he was thinking of seeking his political fortunes again after all, ostensibly at the insistence of entreating adherents who asserted that his absence created a vacuum he was obligated to fill. Yet the crowds who saw him off to prison failed to clamor for his comeback.
Next, Deri tried to run for the Jerusalem mayoralty in 2008, claiming that the moral turpitude imposed on him as part of his conviction, which prevented him from holding executive office, had expired six years after his release. The courts argued that the countdown should begin after the date his full term would have ended – were it not for time-off-for-good-behavior.
A year-and-a-half ago Deri took yet another stab at politics, thereby ripping off once and for all the mask of a sainted martyr and overnight ascetic. That was when he began his campaign for the takeover of Shas.
If anything, all the above shows a man who, his meek pose notwithstanding, couldn’t wait to reappear on center-stage. At this point Deri plainly seeks to coerce Shas mentor Rabbi Ovadyia Yosef to reinstate him at the top party slot or he will run separately.
This, again, isn’t the behavior of an unassuming penitent.
There is clearly a problem with Deri’s current concept of veracity, not only with his past criminality.
But one thing hasn’t changed. Deri is a consummate showman, adept as no other at smoke and mirrors maneuvers. His cheerleaders in politics and the media create and then hype an artificial buzz about his still viable vote-getting prowess, something that’s far from proven.
In the long run our body politic could greatly benefit from legislation to permanently preempt the return to the Knesset or ministerial office of any convict, especially one with a moral turpitude stigma, although that stigma itself isn’t the essential ingredient. It suffices for a candidate to have been convicted in open court.
For now, however, it’s up to the electorate to prevent convicted politicians from repetitively playing us for fools. Voters must clarify to them that they’re unwanted and that our memories aren’t as short as they assume.
In other lands, Deri would stand no chance of reelection. His offenses were weighty. He added insult to injury by obstructing the course of justice and by fomenting demonstrations via divisive ethnic propaganda – likely in order to intimidate the authorities.
He must be rejected on cogent moral grounds by his own former disciples. That would be the only proper and convincing cap to his sordid political saga.