Aryeh Deri
Aryeh Deri Photo by Nir Keidar
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Once again, Aryeh Deri said yesterday that he was coming back. A sort of bi-monthly ritual where the former Shas chairman declares that he is returning to politics, conquering the headlines for a moment. Deri has really mesmerized the media; this is nothing new. Nonetheless, there are three little points worth mentioning in light of his periodic announcements (and in this particular case, in response to a question by Ilana Dayan at the President's Conference ) about a comeback.

It is true that he has remained ambiguous about his plans, and is weighing two options: Shas or another party which combines moderation, tradition, a social agenda, and is open to all Israelis. Yesterday he put these two options into clearer focus. "In the next election I intend to head a political movement," he said.

Deri prefers to come back to Shas, knowing full well that forming a new, rival party, involves serious risks. First and foremost, such a move could provoke the ire of Shas spiritual leader Rabbi Ovadia Yosef and other rabbis. This could stigmatize him even after Yosef is no longer in the picture.

Yesterday Deri threatened Shas: Hold me back or else I will set up a rival party. When he says that "Shas does not need to have the face it has today; I have more patience today and I understand the other more," there is no doubt that he prefers the second option.

The second point worth noting about Deri's statement yesterday are the circumstances in which it was made. Deri arrived at the President's Conference, a forum which is hard to beat in terms of its official character, in order to talk about his political plans, among other things, in an interview with Ilana Dayan. The current Shas chairman, Interior Minister Eli Yishai was not invited to the conference to express his views on a number of political issues - about which Deri was asked. Deri, and not Yishai, had an opportunity to mingle with international guests, public figures and intellectuals, senior representatives of the world Jewry, while Yishai was criticized at the Conference by Jewish leaders from around the world for pushing to restore the inclusion of nationality on identity cards.

Add to this the third element: timing. Deri knows very well how to use the weakness of Yishai. In recent days, the Shas chairman got into a mix-up over an issue whose political chances are dubious, and he continues to be perceived in the media as a problematic figure. Yishai may have succeeded in preserving the power of Shas in the polls, but for some time now he has been forced to operate under the shadow of Deri - even in the cottage cheese controversy.

Last week, when Deri published an article calling for a boycott of the cheese, Yishai had to dance to Deri's tune. While in France he had to send something to the media calling for a criminal investigation against the dairy producers for fixing prices. But for the time being, Deri is opting to bark, not bite. On the one hand, he is not forming his political party; on the other, he is not doing anything substantive to fulfill his wish, which is to return to Shas.

Many of Deri's supporters are wondering whether he may be suffering from performance anxiety. They don't understand why he has adopted a method of coming out periodically with announcements of his comeback, wearing thin the public interest, while neglecting to inform someone more relevant - Ovadia Yosef.

"It is a bit like the Palestinian declaration that they will establish a state. In the end no one will believe him," said one of those affiliated with the Yosef household. He added that Deri is looking like the man who is praying everyday to win the lottery, but will not buy a ticket.