To nobody’s great surprise, former Shas chairman Aryeh Deri signaled Sunday night that he would likely return to politics, just five days after he resigned his Knesset seat.
Deri, speaking with Channel 2’s Uvda program, initially denied he was mulling an imminent return to the helm of ultra-Orthodox party: “I do not know if I will return [to politics], this is the honest truth,” he said. But after being pressed by the interviewer, Deri indicated that a comeback was not out of the question.
“A man who does not change his mind and does not listen to the will of others is not a real man, he is an ass,” he said.
Deri also accused political rival Eli Yishai, a former Shas chairman who broke away last month and founded a new party Ha’am Itanu, of leaking the tape showing the late Rabbi Ovadia Yosef, a revered Sephardic leader, former chief rabbi, and founder of the ultra-Orthodox party, to the party rabbinical council. In the video, Yosef, who died last year, was seen slamming Deri in a recorded conversation and calling him “a thief and bribe taker” who dragged the Shas party to support the Oslo accords.
Deri said on Sunday that he had known for several weeks that Yishai had the tape, but that his rival had promised he would never publicize it. Deri said Yishai showed the tape a month ago to the party’s rabbinical council, which subsequently summoned him for a meeting.
Deri said “it never occurred to him” that the breakaway Ha’am Itanu leader would later leak the tape to the press. (Yishai insists he did no such thing.) Deri conceded that he may have been “naive” in this regard.
Deri said he would not address the allegations against him as presented in the video, since they would only stir up the conflict further and would mean he was placing himself at odds with Yosef.
“I am prepared that they will continue to say all these slanderous statements,” he said. “That I am a thief, a liar, independent, and that I am Oslo, and I am everything, and I won’t defend myself on this matter, since then I would be falling into the trap they set for me.”
With regard to his relationship with Yosef, Deri said: “I know one thing, that when he died, his hand was in my hand, and that’s how we said goodbye — like a son saying goodbye to his father.”
Deri, spoke with supporters for the first time Thursday night since resigning from parliament earlier last week, telling them that he heard their calls for his return.
Sitting in a protest tent erected outside his home in Jerusalem, Deri spoke to one of his supporters by telephone, and broadcast the conversation to the crowd by microphone, Yedioth Ahronoth reported.
“Your cries reach all the way to the north,” he said. “I love you, and I promise you one thing, my brothers. I have not forgotten what the Maran [Shas’s late spiritual leader Ovadia Yosef] told me in the hospital before he died. He held my hands, cried, and said to me, ‘Aryeh, I am asking you, promise me two things: To continue to care for my sons, the precious poor, and that heaven and Judaism will be loved even more.”
“This is the message of the rabbi, we will continue together, with the help of God, it doesn’t matter in what form,” he added. “I am together with you.”
Deri submitted his formal resignation from parliament last Tuesday evening, theoretically defying demands from his party’s religious council that he remain at the helm. However, his move had no practical significance since the Knesset has already dissolved ahead of the March 17, 2015, elections, and the question of whether Deri will continue to lead Shas may remain unresolved for several more weeks.
The nine remaining members of the Shas Knesset faction (excluding Yishai, who split from the party) later threatened to follow in Deri’s footsteps. The nine MKs notified the party’s spiritual leadership, the Council of Torah Sages, that if Deri truly leaves, they intend to do so as well.
With the Knesset out of session until after the elections, the resignation game appeared largely symbolic, and it remained unclear whether the MKs intended to resign from the current Knesset only, or whether they were threatening to drop out from the party’s list for the upcoming election as well.
However, the Knesset must at all times have 120 members, and such a mass resignation would necessitate the swearing-in of 10 new Shas MKs — who would hold the positions for the next three months.
The developments, which threatened to cause the party’s collapse, came the day after Deri sent a letter to the Council of Torah Sages telling them he wanted out of politics — after the video was leaked.
In a speech last Tuesday night, Yishai denied that he was behind the leak of the video material. Speaking at a political gathering in Sderot, he said he had set up his new party to prevent another Oslo-style peace process with the Palestinians and to “protect the Land of Israel” — an apparent dig at the more-dovish Deri.
The splintering of Shas is expected to significantly lower its representation in the Knesset from its current 11 seats to 5 seats in the March 2015 election, while Yishai’s party remains just below the minimum threshold to gain entry into the legislative body.