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Aryeh Deri said to head Shas list, with Yishai merely to be top minister

Former interior minister and ex-convict had considered creating his own party, but Rabbi Ovadia Yosef has reportedly welcomed him back

Raphael Ahren is the diplomatic correspondent at The Times of Israel.

Eli Yishai, right, and Aryeh Deri participate in a circumcision ceremony for the great-grandson of Shas' spiritual leader, Rabbi Ovadia Yosef, on October 14, 2012. (photo credit: Oren Nahshon/Flash90)
Eli Yishai, right, and Aryeh Deri participate in a circumcision ceremony for the great-grandson of Shas' spiritual leader, Rabbi Ovadia Yosef, on October 14, 2012. (photo credit: Oren Nahshon/Flash90)

Former interior minister and ex-convict Aryeh Deri will reportedly head the Shas party’s list for the upcoming Knesset elections, while incumbent chairman and Interior Minister Eli Yishai will keep the party’s most senior ministerial post.

The reported deal seems to be a comprise solution to an internal power struggle between the two politicians, as Deri and Yishai both eyed the party’s leadership and Deri threatened to run with a new party if he was not reinstated as Shas’s chairman.

Deri is seen as a potential vote-winner for the ultra-Orthodox Shas, while Yishai is a less compelling political figure under whom Shas has not widened its electorate significantly.

So far, Shas’s spiritual leader and final decision maker, former Israeli chief rabbi Ovadia Yosef, has not formally announced the arrangement, but Channel 2 News reported on Monday night that the rabbi’s confidantes and senior Shas officials said that Deri — Yishai’s predecessor at the party’s helm — would retake the party’s chairmanship, while Yishai would receive the most senior ministerial portfolio if Shas entered the next government.

Yishai’s office responded to the report by saying that “nothing has changed, we will do whatever Rabbi Ovadia Yosef instructs us to do.”

After the charismatic Deri decided to reenter political life a few weeks ago, observers wondered whether he would be able to convince Yosef to make him the party’s number one — thus relegating Yishai — or whether Deri would create a new party. While Yishai was reportedly promised he would keep the party’s most senior government post, pundits evaluated Yosef’s decision as a crushing disappointment for Yishai, who had hoped to remain at the party’s helm.

The Moroccan-born Deri, 53, served as interior minister for several years until he was indicted in 1993 for accepting $155,000 in bribes. In 2000, he was sentenced to three years in prison, which barred him from political life for seven years.

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