Aryeh Deri, the controversial ex-political leader of the Shas Party, says the reports about his candidacy for mayor of Jerusalem are "too early."
"I still have not decided whether to run or not," Deri said. The former politician, very popular among the hareidi-Sephardic population, faces a possible legal obstacle if he decides to run, in that he was released from prison six years ago. The law currently states that one may not run for public office until seven years have passed since he left jail.
Deri was sentenced to three years in prison for bribery and related charges. He has never ceased insisting that he was not guilty, and he was freed from jail in July 2002 after serving two-thirds of his sentence.
Aryeh Deri immigrated to Israel with his family from Morocco at the age of 9. He helped found the Shas Party in 1983 at age 24, became its Director-General a year later, and was named Director-General of the Interior Ministry in 1986. He served as Minister of the Interior between 1988 and 1993, and as a Knesset Member from 1992 until 1999.
Deri was implicated in three instances of wrongdoing, including the case that became known as the Deri/Bar-On scandal in 1997. It involved suspicions that Deri promised Shas support for then-Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu's policies if Bar-On were to be named Attorney-General. Bar-On, then an obscure Jerusalem attorney and now the Minister of Finance, in fact served as Attorney-General for exactly two days before being pressured to resign.
Among the Shas electorate, however, Deri's popularity has always been sky-high. His door was said to have been perpetually open to people in distress, and many families say he "saved" them. Many cite the Deri case as an example of the "non-religious Ashkenazi establishment against the traditional Sephardic population."
What About Porush?
If Deri runs for Mayor of Jerusalem, this will place the candidacy of hareidi-religious MK Meir Porush in jeopardy. Porush has met with Shas spiritual leader Rabbi Ovadiah Yosef, asking him to unite the hareidi-religious population in Jerusalem behind his own candidacy.
Incumbent Mayor Uri Lupoliansky, of the Degel HaTorah faction of United Torah Judaism (UTJ), has already announced that he will not run again, and will instead support Porush, the candidate of the Agudat Yisrael faction of UTJ. This, in accordance with an inter-UTJ rotation agreement made prior to the last elections, five years ago.
Nir Barkat, a Jerusalem businessman who ran in the last elections, will run again as the "secular" candidate in the coming Jerusalem mayoral elections. A poll taken two weeks ago shows Barkat leading Porush by a 54-33 % margin. Polls generally under-estimate hareidi-sector voting rates, however.
Municipal elections in most Israeli cities are to be held on Nov. 11.