Aryeh Deri of the Shas party offered his resignation to the ultra-Orthodox party’s steering council of rabbis on Monday, a day after the publication of footage of the party’s late former spiritual leader criticizing Deri and praising his arch-rival Eli Yishai, the former leader of the party.
Deri presented the Shas party’s Council of Torah Sages with a letter in which he laid out his reasons for the dramatic step, Channel 10 reported. The letter, which pundits in Hebrew newscasts Monday night said was a symbolic protest on Deri’s part, was rejected by the council, which instructed Deri to remain leader of the party.
“The pain that pierced my heart yesterday was worse than when Rabbi Ovadia Yosef, of blessed memory, died,” Deri wrote. “The heart is torn in light of the terrible desecration of God’s name, the contempt for the Torah and the insult to our teacher’s honor.”
The veteran politician then declared that he was returning the mandate placed upon him by the council to act as chairman and retiring from politics.
After receiving Deri’s missive, the council of sages, which governs all major policy decisions in the Sephardic ultra-orthodox party, called a meeting to review the matter and later said that it rejected Deri’s letter.
“The Council of Torah Sages firmly rejects the party chairman’s request to resign his position and affirms that he has been serving successfully and faithfully and consults with us on anything that requires our consultation,” a spokesman for the rabbis said in a prepared statement read to the media after the meeting. “We are full of appreciation over the manner in which he is managing the party. We stand behind him firmly, and decree that he remain in his post.”
Sources within Shas indicated that there may be hundreds of hours of as-yet-unseen video showing Yosef speaking on a range of topics, some of which could be used as ammunition in the clash between Deri and Yishai.
The video that was aired on Sunday, which documented a conversation that took place in 2008, set Shas on its heels as the party was already reeling from the defection of Yishai, who started his own party to compete with the Sephardic ultra-Orthodox powerhouse.
Yosef expressed fears over Deri’s possible return to the party after the latter spent two years in prison and several years out of public service following a graft conviction in 1999.
“Thirty, 40 percent will leave [Shas]. Why? Because he was convicted in court. Why take a thief or bribe taker?” Ovadia asked rhetorically.
Deri returned to politics after a 13-year hiatus and was reinstated in 2012 by Yosef as Shas party co-chairman together with Yishai, who headed the ultra-Orthodox party during Deri’s incarceration.
Despite his harsh criticisms, Yosef appointed Deri as sole party chairman in 2013, shortly before his death.
Some 40 party leaders, including four of Yosef’s children, gathered at Yosef’s grave in Jerusalem for a press conference Monday and lashed out at Yishai.
“There’s no forgiveness for what he did” in ostensibly leaking the tape, said David Yosef, who is also a member of the Shas council, and called Yishai “impudent.”
In the tape, though, Yosef was heard clearly putting his weight behind Yishai.
“[Deri] will not listen to me, I know this from experience, he is too independent,” the rabbi told his son in the recording. “Your mother was in tears — is this not evil? I’ve spoken to him several times, and he did not want to listen,” he said.
“Let [Deri] set up his own political movement, what do I care?” Yosef said. “What will he get? Five thousand [votes]? He won’t even pass the electoral threshold.”
“I cannot betray Eli Yishai,” he said.
The long-standing rivalry between Yishai and Deri was reignited after Yosef’s death in 2013. The two quarreled repeatedly over Yishai’s role in the party, with Deri accusing Yishai of undermining him in a bid to reclaim the chairmanship.
Tensions came to a head earlier this month as Yishai broke away from Shas and formed a new party, Ha’am Itanu (The Nation Is with Us).