Shas party leader Ariyeh Deri.
Shas party leader Ariyeh Deri. Photo by Hadar Cohen
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Shas has forged a strategic pact with Yisrael Beiteinu aimed at dismantling Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s current government, and this pact was behind the two parties’ decision to run Moshe Leon as a candidate for mayor of Jerusalem, Shas chairman Aryeh Deri said in a radio interview on Tuesday.

The interview is liable to profoundly embarrass many members of the government, in which Yisrael Beiteinu is a senior partner. This is especially true because Leon is formally the candidate of both Yisrael Beiteinu and Netanyahu’s Likud party, though neither the prime minister nor many other senior Likud MKs have endorsed him.

Deri, whose Shas party isn’t in the government, was interviewed on Tuesday by the ultra-Orthodox Kol Barama station. Asked about the fact that many Haredi rabbis still haven’t endorsed Leon, he replied that the Haredim must unite behind the candidate because the future of the pact with Yisrael Beiteinu chairman Avigdor Lieberman depends on it.

“Avigdor Lieberman is the central axis of this government coalition,” Deri said. “It’s impossible to dismantle this coalition without Avigdor Lieberman. It’s impossible to come to Avigdor Lieberman and tell him, ‘Sir, we’re liquidating you politically – not personally, heaven forbid – and we’re not going with your candidate Moshe Leon in Jerusalem, but afterward we’ll ask you to dismantle your alliance with Yair Lapid and [Naftali] Bennett,’” the heads of two other coalition parties. “It won’t work. Period. You can’t act like that,” Deri said.

“If right now, we gnash our teeth, and the Haredi public doesn’t unite around Moshe Leon’s candidacy, I tell you that we’ve lost our chance to dismantle this coalition for the next three years,” he added.

Asked whether Lieberman had actually promised to bring down the government if Leon won thanks to Haredi support, Deri told the station that even if Leon doesn’t win, “Lieberman will be with us in this alliance if he knows we went together with him. But partnerships and agreements aren’t made solely on paper. ... When you go into a big battle together, then you cooperate afterward.”

In response to the interview, some Likud officials in Jerusalem urged Netanyahu and other Likud ministers to throw their full support to Leon’s rival, incumbent Mayor Nir Barkat. But many Likud MKs – including several who are normally not fans of Yisrael Beiteinu – dismissed Deri’s claim, saying they didn’t see any reason to believe Lieberman had allied with the Haredim to break up the coalition.

“Yisrael Beiteinu has no reason to endanger Netanyahu at the moment,” said a Likud MK. “This is a theoretical statement by Deri, and there’s no reason to respond to it right now. We’ll have to wait and see.”