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'Technically, he's not an MK... but he's the Shas address'

Despite resigning as MK in plea deal, Deri to continue leading Shas Knesset activity

After conviction for tax offenses, Shas leader will still run party’s weekly faction meetings, steer its intricate political life. He just won’t be able to vote, says party source

Carrie Keller-Lynn is a political and legal correspondent for The Times of Israel

Shas party leader Aryeh Deri leaves the Jerusalem Magistrate's Court after pleading guilty on charges of tax offenses as part of a negotiated plea bargain, on January 25, 2022. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)
Shas party leader Aryeh Deri leaves the Jerusalem Magistrate's Court after pleading guilty on charges of tax offenses as part of a negotiated plea bargain, on January 25, 2022. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

Despite resigning from the Knesset this week as a condition of his plea bargain, Shas leader Aryeh Deri intends to continue to head the faction and participate in daily Knesset life, according to a senior Shas figure.

Deri inked a plea deal in December to resolve tax offenses connected to real estate transactions. As part of the deal, Deri agreed to admit to not paying income taxes on an apartment sale and making false statements, and resigned from the Knesset and will pay a NIS 180,000 ($56,000) fine. Deri will not face a designation of moral turpitude, which would have banned him from the Knesset for seven years.

It was his second major brush with the law, after a 1999 conviction for bribery and breach of trust for actions taken while interior minister, which landed Deri with 22 months in prison and a political time out via the designation of moral turpitude. Deri returned to politics and was reelected to the Shas list in 2013.

A senior Shas figure told The Times of Israel on Thursday that Deri’s plea deal and resignation will in practice change little except for his formal designation as a legislator. Deri will continue to participate in full Knesset life, as if he were an MK without voting power.

“He’s the address for everything that happens with Shas, just technically, he’s not a member of Knesset,” the source said.

According to the Shas source, Deri will continue to lead the Shas party’s Monday faction meetings and will remain Shas’ representative at the “right bloc” party head meetings held in opposition leader Benjamin Netanyahu’s office.

Opposition Leader MK Benjamin Netanyahu speaks with then-MK Aryeh Deri during a Knesset session, on November 4, 2021. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

If elections are called at any time moving forward, Deri can run for office and return to full formal power, unless the Central Elections Committee votes to bar him from doing so.

“The law enables him to do this,” the source said.

The source also told The Times of Israel that Deri will also continue to manage Knesset-floor voting strategy, including a key role in spearheading the opposition’s coordination with Joint List chairman MK Ahmed Tibi.

“[Deri] is the only one who can connect between Tibi and Bibi [Netanyahu],” he said. “To topple this government we need to cooperate with the whole opposition, including the Joint List.”

Joint List head MK Ahmad Tibi (left) and Shas leader, then-MK Aryeh Deri, during a Knesset session, on January 19, 2022. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

“He will continue with his work, together with Netanyahu, to topple this government.”

Since the June 2021 establishment of the current government, which ousted Shas, Netanyahu, and several opposition parties from power, there has been a concerted effort among Jewish opposition parties — with, at times, coordinated help from the Arab Joint List — to topple the coalition. This has led to a strategy that has at times prioritized frustrating the coalition’s legislative efforts over promoting ideologically-aligned content.

Shas has clearly articulated this strategy with respect to the debate over the now-lapsed 2003 Citizenship and Entry Law. The Citizenship Law, contentious for blocking Palestinians who marry Israelis from receiving Israeli residency permits, has been renewed by every Knesset until the current one since it was first enacted. Despite its alignment with Shas’ policies, Shas has worked to torpedo the law “to interfere with” the coalition’s efforts, said the source.

“We aren’t going to save them, we aren’t going to pass laws for them,” he said, referencing the fact that the current government holds a razor-thin 61-seat majority.

Regarding legislative policy priorities, he said, “It’s not [about] Shas now, it’s the right bloc.”

Upon Deri’s departure from the Knesset on Tuesday, Yosef Taieb was sworn in to replace him within Shas.

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