Yesh Atid MK Peri steps down amid misconduct allegations

Former Shin Bet chief says report he leaked intel on wiretaps to Aryeh Deri during 1990s police probe ‘casting a heavy shadow on my long years of service’

Raoul Wootliff is the producer and occasional host of the Times of Israel Daily Briefing podcast.

Yesh Atid MK Yaakov Peri, a former head of the Shin Bet (Yonatan Sindel/Flash 90)
Yesh Atid MK Yaakov Peri, a former head of the Shin Bet (Yonatan Sindel/Flash 90)

In a surprise announcement Wednesday afternoon, Yesh Atid MK Yaakov Peri announced his resignation from the Knesset, citing recent media reports of misconduct that he says are “casting a heavy shadow on my long years of service.”

A former head of the Shin Bet security service, Peri, 73, has faced public pressure in recent weeks after a January report alleged he leaked sensitive information to Interior Minister Aryeh Deri about police wiretaps of Deri’s associates during a corruption investigation into the Shas leader two decades ago.

Peri said Wednesday that “due to the fact that these one-sided publications are casting a heavy shadow on my long years of service for the security of Israel and on the values of Yesh Atid, I have decided to take time out from my public life and resign from the Knesset.”

He presented his official letter of resignation to Knesset Speaker Yuli Edelstein, which will go into effect in 48 hours.

Yaakov Peri (R) handing his letter of resignation to Knesset speaker Yuli Edelstein, February 7, 2018. (Courtesy)

The “Uvda” investigative report aired last month unearthed a report from a covert probe in 1995 that saw two members of the three-person panel of investigators conclude that Peri — also a former science minister — was likely the source of the 1991 leaks to Deri, after the then-Shin Bet chief was found to be lying on a series of polygraph tests.

Peri, who has conceded to having a “good relationship” with Deri at the time, firmly denies the allegations. In his Wednesday statement, he said the report was aimed at tainting his name and his years of public service.

“I never hid the fact that heart problems prevented me from completing full military service,” he said. “In the past months there are those who are trying to undermine my credibility and long years of service to the State of Israel. I fought my whole life and was injured during my service in the Shin Bet.”

A Yesh Atid spokesperson declined to comment on what the mention of Peri’s heart problems was meant to signify, although it may be connected to a separate “Uvda” report which, moments after his resignation, the program announced would be airing Wednesday night.

“Yaakov Peri resigned ahead of a new investigation: all the details on the fresh case that has been uncovered by [Uvda reporter] Omri Asnahaim, and also what happened this week behind the scenes, tonight on Uvda,” the show tweeted.

Responding to the resignation, Yesh Atid released a no-frills statement praising Peri’s work as a Knesset member and earlier as Shin Bet head.

“We respect Yaakov Perry’s decision to resign from the Knesset,” the statement read. “Perry served for over 30 years in the Shin Bet during which time he was injured and returned to service. His contribution to the fight against terror and to security of the State of Israel will be to his credit for years to come.”

Yesh Atid leader Yair Lapid, who last month indicated he would not seek Peri’s ouster over the allegations, said his contribution to Israel’s security “is among the greatest that the country has ever known,” but added that his resignation “reflects the values of Yesh Atid and the public norms which we believe in.”

Yaakov Peri (left) and Yair Lapid at the Knesset (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

Addressing the claims made by “Uvda” in a Facebook post last month, Lapid said that in Yesh Atid, “an MK who is under investigation must go home until the matter is cleared up.”

“But this isn’t the case. There is no investigation here, there are no criminal or legal proceedings. When the dust settles on the headlines, what remains is an inadmissible polygraph from 23 years ago,” Lapid wrote.

“It may raise questions, but doesn’t a man with so many merits like Peri get an opportunity to respond? Is this the new procedure? A TV show that acts as judge, jury and executioner?” added Lapid, whose Yesh Atid party has championed the fight against corruption as part of its political platform.

After being recruited by the Shin Bet in 1966, Peri served for several decades as an agent in Israel’s domestic security service, and rose to the organization’s directorship. He served as director of the Shin Bet from 1988 until his retirement in 1995. He joined Yesh Atid in October 2012 ahead of the general elections the next year.

One of the first public figures to align themselves with the party, Peri was given the number two spot on the Knesset list and, with his valuable security credentials, was credited with helping catapult Yesh Atid into the government after it secured 19 seats in the 2013 poll. He was rewarded with a ministerial posting heading the Ministry of Science and Technology.

With Peri out of the Knesset, former MK Pnina Tamano-Shata, the first Ethiopia-born woman to ever hold a Knesset seat, will take his spot as the next person on Yesh Atid’s electoral list.

​Earlier Wednesday, Joint (Arab) List MK Youssef Atauna​ handed Edelstein his letter of resignation from the Knesset​, just four months after being sworn in. The move came as part of a rotation agreement between the party’s various different factions. Atauna had represented the communist Hadash faction, and is expected to be replaced by Eil Yunnis from the secular-Palestinian-Israeli nationalist Ra’am-Ta’al faction.

Times of Israel staff contributed to this report.

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