Former Shas chairman Aryeh Deri, long rumored to be returning to the political arena, formally announced on Wednesday that he intends to return to Israeli politics and run in the next elections.
Speaking at the Presidential Conference, Deri said: “I will head a party in the next elections. I decided this during the past year for many reasons. I feel I can contribute and give hope to the citizens of Israel, and it is impossible to contribute without political power. I’m coming back and I want to have political power for the sake of unity and civic responsibility.”
But Deri, who was one of the founders of the Shas party and headed it through most of the 1980s and 1990s, during which period he was an icon to the Shas electorate for consolidating its welfare and educational achievements, made it clear that he is forming a new party.
“It will not be a sectarian party like Shas,” he emphasized. “That which worked well in 1984 is irrelevant now. Today I am returning to politics to unite the people who are about to be facing difficult decisions.”
He added, “Of course I will deal with the issues of the peace process as I did before, but the reality has changed and this should be considered. My worst nightmare is war; I never voted for military operations when I was in the cabinet, so I know I cannot be prime minister.”
Deri was convicted of bribery and related charges in 1999 and was sentenced to three years in prison. He was freed from jail in July 2002 after serving two-thirds of his sentence.
In 2008 he considered running for mayor of Jerusalem, but the bid was rejected due to the fact that only six years had passed since he completed his prison sentence. The law says that in a case such as his, one must wait seven years before assuming public office.
His announcement about returning to politics was met with criticism by some, including Likud MK Tzipi Hotovely, who said that Deri’s returning to politics “brings back the stigma of corruption in the public arena.”
She added that “a person who was convicted of criminal offenses committed while in office should not return to lead. The political arena has suffered a deterioration of public image, and therefore we should maintain the integrity of those entering through the gates of the Knesset.”
Hotovely said she plans to promote an amendment to the Knesset Basic Law that would not allow individuals who were convicted of criminal offenses to be reelected to the Knesset.
Deri’s return was also met with criticism because of the 1993 disastrous Oslo Accords, which led to a five-year wave of mass murder on Israel’s streets, followed by the creation of a terror state in Gaza. Shas, led by Deri, chose to abstain during the vote in the Knesset rather than vote against the Oslo Accords.
Right-wing activist Baruch Marzel said in response to Deri’s announcement, “Deri’s great talents were expressed through the cursed Oslo Accords that brought thousands of casualties and an existential threat to Israel.”
He added that “his return to politics is like the return of a recidivist to the crime scene.”
Deri addressed the Oslo Accords issue in a recent interview with Haggai Segal of Makor Rishon. In the interview Deri said that he had expressed his opposition to the agreements but that Shas’ spiritual leader, Rabbi Ovadia Yosef, ultimately decided the party would abstain and Deri “wholeheartedly accepted his decision.”