Deri and Shas deserve each other

In principle, it makes no difference whether Deri or Yishai heads Shas in the next elections; there is no substantial difference between the two.

Haim Amsalem 311 (photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski)
Haim Amsalem 311
(photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski)
As I traverse the state speaking about the goals of Am Shalem in the next elections, audience doubts vanish quickly after the first person to raise a hand at the conclusion of my presentation asks: “Do you and Arye Deri plan to cooperate and work together in the next elections?” Sometimes the question is asked less directly: “Why don’t you join together with Deri?” At other times, the choice of words reflects wishful thinking: “If you and Deri run on a joint list, you will take more seats away from Shas.”
The issue of cooperation between me and former minister Deri in the next elections occupies the minds of many, including many Am Shalem supporters. This always reminds me that I have a great deal of work ahead of me. I know that I cannot rest as long as there is even a single Israeli who does not understand the vast gulf between my world view, political path and past deeds, and Arye Deri’s.
The person who ingeniously created the extremist, anti- Zionist movement that is known as the Shas Party is not Construction and Housing Minister Ariel Attias, nor his political opponent Interior Minister Eli Yishai, and not even Rabbi Ovadia Yosef. The creator of this mutation, the absolute opposite of Sephardic traditions, is none other than Deri, who did so with great sophistication.
The man whose (repeated) announcements regarding a return to politics has attracted so much attention in the political arena is the one who led Shas to its current dark state, where the integration of Torah and earning an honest living has become impossible.
My answer to all those interested in the possibility of collaboration between me and Arye Deri is that a partnership between me and the person who bequeathed to Shas the extremist ideology that goes against the joint sharing of the national burden (with all citizens serving in the IDF or performing national/civil service), who is against the integration of Torah and livelihood, and is also against solving the painful problem of conversions in Israel – all out of a paralyzing fear of extremist elements – cannot take place. There is simply no common ground.
The natural place for Deri, who has said expressed in a radio interview that he sees no need to return to the traditional, moderate Sephardic approach to religion – that “we do not want to go back to the days of Fez and Jalabiya” – is at the helm of the Shas Party.
AM SHALEM, the movement which I have founded, is first and foremost an expression of a new and courageous political spirit. It is a movement whose leaders understand that they are elected public representatives, and not serving themselves. Am Shalem seeks to build bridges between the various sectors in Israel, as opposed to causing divisions and disagreements on every esoteric topic. It is a movement with a clear central agenda that represents its strong backbone, rather than vague statements, empty of content. Am Shalem combats discrimination of any kind, instead of perpetuating it because of narrow, sectarian political motives. Its leaders take responsibility for their actions, and are not mere puppets.
Therefore, I recommend that the political and spiritual leaders of Shas re-embrace Arye Deri. It is fitting for Deri to head Shas, and fitting for Shas to have Deri as its leader. In principle, it makes no difference whether Deri or Yishai heads Shas in the next elections; there is no substantial difference between the two. Deri’s politics are the same as Yishai’s, only more elegant.
And of that, I and Am Shalem want no part.
The writer is founder and chairman of the Am Shalem political movement.