Published in Israel Hayom, October 23, 2013
Aryeh Deri’s defeat in Jerusalem is the most important result of yesterday’s nation-wide municipal elections. Deri concocted Moshe Leon’s implausible candidacy, sold it to Avigdor Lieberman, and promised to deliver the goods through massive Haredi support for Leon – all for greater self-aggrandizement of Aryeh Deri.
Fortunately, Deri lost yesterday’s vote. The residents of Jerusalem have been saved from his clutches, and Israeli politics has bought itself a bit of breathing space before being hit by Deri’s next, inevitable, retrogressive campaign.
Everybody knew that Aryeh Deri’s return as the top honcho in Shas was bad news. His brand of bitter, blithely sectorial, shady and brusquely cynical politics is exactly what Israel doesn’t need.
However, the wily Deri smelled an opportunity. With Rabbi Ovadia Yosef failing, last year he easily pushed aside veteran party leader Eli Yishai. He presented himself as a persecuted Dreyfus and wronged Demjanjuk rolled into one, and as a holy man whose concern for the poor would bring salvation to the downtrodden of Israel.
Then, this fall, he launched his first assault on a Likud stronghold, by joining forces with Avigdor Lieberman in an attempt to capture the Jerusalem municipality through the straw-candidacy of Moshe Leon. Deri’s purpose: to flex his muscles, and build alliances that would force Likud out of its current Knesset coalition. A victory in Jerusalem would crown Deri as king of the Haredi world, and as kingmaker of the next national coalition – either with a humbled Netanyahu or a resurgent Left.
As I say, I’m really relieved that Deri failed. He is a retrogressive figure in Israeli politics, one of the father-figures of the Haredi world of dependency, of living off the dole. He was central to the creation of the all-encompassing government-support system for those studying in yeshiva; a system so comprehensive that it simply doesn’t pay for a Kollel man to step out into the working world.
I haven’t once heard the newly-reincarnated Ayre Deri speak positively about higher education and professional-training programs for the Ultra-Orthodox that have opened in recent years, nor has he said one word about the importance of increased participation of Haredim in the army.
Furthermore, Deri is dangerous to the integrity of Israeli politics because he is the master of cynical wheeling-dealing. He’ll cut any deal with anyone of any background (even the so-very-treif, staunchly anti-religious Russian party led by Lieberman), if it serves his momentary political purpose.
He’ll manipulate every government committee to favor Shas party hacks and to get his brothers and allies appointed as government-paid rabbis. He’ll monkey with Daylight Savings Time, every year, if that sells to his voter base. He’ll sell every settler to the Saudis, twice over, if that earns Shas-affiliated schools a five percent budget increase.
He’ll whisper wicked things, as needed, about Religious Zionist people, or secular or Russian or Reform Jews, or Likud politicians, in the ears of whatever rabbinical puppet person emerges as the next head of the Shas “Council of Torah Sages.” Which is exactly what he did with the late Rabbi Ovadia Yosef. Deri can directly be blamed for turning Rav Ovadia away from his earlier path of religious and political moderation.
Deri’s vindictive and no-holds-barred modus operandi carries over into the diplomatic realm, as well. He spawned the failed “stinking maneuver” in 1990 which attempted to bring down the unity government led by Prime Minister Shamir and install a narrow Peres government instead. Then Deri bought the Labor Party’s support for Haredi takeover of state religious enterprises (such as the Chief Rabbinate and religious courts) by backing the Oslo process – until the intifada made it too difficult for Shas voters to stomach this.
So Deri’s loss – and it is his loss more than Lieberman’s – in yesterday’s Jerusalem municipal election is a good thing. Unfortunately, you can be sure that Deri will be back with other, always-divisive, shenanigans soon enough.
In the meantime, kudos to the few Likud MKs (Moshe Yaalon, Ruby Rivlin, Limor Livnat and Tsachi Hanegbi), and to Prime Minister Netanyahu, who resisted Lieberman’s pressures and quietly backed Jerusalem’s impressive incumbent mayor, Nir Barkat.