How to thwart Deri

In other lands Deri would have no chance of returning to politics and gaining election, but there’s no knowing which way the Shas electorate might tilt.

Arye Deri 311 (photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski)
Arye Deri 311
(photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski)
When Shas’s Aryeh Deri was released from prison 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 so accomplished. Henceforth he’d stoically and altruistically focus on his spiritual side, he said. Any future celebrity status would be that of the agonized religious figure. This made sense back-in-the-day.
As any ex-con emerging from durance vile eventually realizes, things didn’t remain the same on the outside while he was doing time. Conditions changed; associates and collaborators have dispersed and found new partners, maybe even new pursuits. The world has moved on.
For a short while, Deri appeared to have internalized this. His outward demeanor was that of an introspective, sorrowful, almost contrite individual. So much for appearances.
Just one year later, in 2003, Deri, though still sounding chastened, announced that he might seek his political fortunes again after all, ostensibly at the insistence of entreating adherents who argued that his absence had created a vacuum only he could fill. Yet the crowds who had seen him off to prison failed to clamor for his comeback.
Deri tried to run for the Jerusalem mayoralty in 2008, claiming that the “moral turpitude” aspect of his conviction, which prevented him from holding executive office, had lapsed six years after his release.
The courts argued, however, that the countdown began only after the date on which his full prison term would have ended were it not for time-off-for-good behavior.
Now Deri is taking another stab at politics, and the image of contrition seems to have slipped still further away. He intimates that he may attempt a takeover of Shas, the party he effectively forged. And there is a possibility that he may find a vacuum at the party top, because the State Comptroller is expected to publish a scathing report on the Carmel fire disaster, which just might burn Deri’s successor, Interior Minister Eli Yishai. Shas, hardly unexpectedly, is in a tizzy.
There is a multiplicity of interests, both in and out of Shas, to block Deri’s return. There’s likewise a clear advantage for the opposition if Deri mixes things up in the coalition.
This has given birth to legislative initiatives aimed at permanently preempting the return to the Knesset or ministerial office of any convict with a moral turpitude stigma.
Prima facie this makes sense. Deri’s offenses were weighty. He added insult to injury by obstructing the course of justice and by fomenting demonstrations via divisive ethnic propaganda – possibly in order to intimidate the authorities.
Our memories are short. In other lands Deri would have stood no chance of returning to politics and gaining election, but there’s no knowing which way the Shas electorate might tilt. Political analysts couldn’t read that party from its inception.
Nevertheless, should the rules of the race be amended after the runners are poised at the start-line? This isn’t quite retroactive legislation, as the race for the next Knesset has not begun, but it is too close for comfort to be fiddling with the rules to thwart one single player. Person-specific legislation should be abhorrent in a democracy.
It was right to apply the rules to Deri strictly in 2008 but, today, he is not in breach of any technical constraint.
The belated introduction of synthetic new limitations would serve Deri’s purposes and allow him to yet again paint himself cynically as the system’s victim.
It would be better if Deri spared us his reentry into the political arena. Nevertheless, if this is unavoidable, then his candidacy and suitability must be tackled on the playing field itself. He should be rejected on cogent moral grounds by his own past disciples. That would be the only proper and convincing cap to his sordid political saga.
Deri should not be barred artificially from his favorite pastime of pulling strings behind the scenes.
For all we know, his fickle followers may have altered their predilections. They deserve the benefit of our doubt.
It is time for the voters, again, to judge Aryeh Deri.
We would like to believe they will make the only moral choice.