The media has been uncharacteristically forgiving of Aryeh Deri, mentioning only in passing the fact that he was convicted of taking hundreds of thousands of shekels in bribes and serving a three year sentence for his crimes, says former Shas MK Haim Amsalem. And there is a good reason for that; speaking on Galei Yisrael Radio on Thursday morning, Amsalem said that the media, most of it leftist, was pinning its hopes on a “moderate” Deri pushing Shas out of the rightwing camp, and back into the arms of the “moderate” camp, perhaps even influencing the party to stay out of a future coalition headed by Binyamin Netanyahu.
“We all expected a major fight within Shas, depending on whether Rabbi Ovadia Yosef chose Deri or current Shas head Eli Yishai to lead the party,” said Amsalem, who bolted from Shas two years ago to form his own one-man party, Am Shalem (Complete Nation). “Instead, Shas did as Shas usually does, compromising between opposing forces.” Instead of choosing one or the other, Rabbi Yosef put both Deri and Yishai in charge, with current Housing Minister Ariel Attias appointed as a third member of the ruling Shas triumvirate, no doubt to “keep an eye” and keep the peace between the other two.
Rabbi Yosef probably did this, said Amsalem, in order to keep the dissent that would inevitably result from a Deri-Yishai showdown, scaring away traditionally religious voters, on whom Shas counts for many of its Knesset seats. In addition, polls have consistently shown that Deri is a vote-getter, and could even add several Knesset seats to Shas in the next election.
But that strategy could backfire. “Deri is not the type to share power, he is a bulldozer who, because of his personality, tends to dominate,” said Amsalem. “In the end, the rivalry between him and Yishai will come to the fore, and will show itself in many ways in the party.” The rivalry will be apparent to voters, who will reject Shas because of the tension and infighting – even as many other voters decide to stay away from Shas because of its inclusion of a convicted felon as part of its leadership.
“While the media never fails to point out any and every minor infraction of a Hareidi politician, they are being quite charitable to Deri,” said Amsalem. “Deri was the one who signed off on the Oslo Accords and pushed Rabbi Yosef to accept them, so the left has high hopes for him in this election. Deri, they hope, will neutralize Shas, immobilizing it enough to prevent the party from agreeing to quickly – or agreeing at all – to join a government headed by Binyamin Netanyahu.”
Here, too, however, Rabbi Yosef may have made a major error in admitting Deri to the leadership of the party, said analysts; the relatively (to Deri) rightwing Yishai would be an unlikely candidate for a major ministry position in a government headed by Labor or the party headed by Yair Lapid (or even Shaul Mofaz, if Kadima managed to turn the polls around). The Shas candidate for Interior Minister in such a government would naturally be Aryeh Deri – except that as a convicted felon, Deri is no longer permitted to serve as a minister.