The spiritual leader of the ultra-Orthodox Shas political party said Saturday night he had promised former party leader Aryeh Deri he would return him to the leadership of the party once Deri left jail.
The revelation from Rabbi Ovadiah Yosef came three days after Deri was given the go-ahead to reassume the party’s leadership, after several months of sitting as one of three Shas political chiefs as part of a power sharing pact.
“It was a deposit that he held, and now he can redeem it,” Yosef said during his weekly Saturday night sermon.
Deri said Sunday he was delighted to be restored to the position.
Deri headed the party until he was convicted in 1999 of accepting $155,000 in bribes while running the Interior Ministry and as interior minister, and served 22 months in prison. He returned to the party last year and challenged then-party head Eli Yishai for the faction’s top spot in the run-up to January’s elections before coming to a power-sharing agreement that created a leadership troika of Deri, Yishai and Ariel Atias.
At the time, Yosef called called the party’s three-pronged leadership a “triple bond that won’t be severed soon.”
On Saturday night he said there had been no plot against the sidelined Yishai, who he called “just and upright.”
“I thank him for all that he did,” Yosef said.
Deri on Sunday echoed Yosef’s use of the word “deposit” to describe Yishai’s role as party chairman. Yishai had performed “perfectly well” in the post, Deri said, but now it was being restored to him as promised.
On Thursday, the party’s spokesperson indicated that Yishai – who was previously the chairman of Shas for 12 years running and who occupied the first position on the party’s Knesset list in January – would be responsible for overseeing the party’s educational network, while Atias would become chairman of the party’s Knesset faction.