Former Shas chairman Aryeh Deri is closer than ever to announcing his return to politics after having been forced to bow out due to his conviction on corruption charges. He is now working to obtain permission to run in the Jerusalem mayoral elections despite the complications because his crimes involved moral turpitude.
His decision to attempt a comeback was further solidified after consulting yesterday with two religious parties' spiritual leaders: Rabbi Yosef Shalom Elyashiv of United Torah Judaism and Rabbi Ovadia Yosef of Shas. Both rabbis gave him their blessing to run for mayor, despite the hopes of MK Meir Porush of United Torah Judaism to gain the support of ultra-Orthodox rabbis and win the election.
According to a report on the Haredi radio station Kol Chai last night, Deri decided definitively after his latest meetings to run for Jerusalem mayor. The report said he instructed his attorneys to ask the chairman of the Central Elections Committee, Justice Eliezer Rivlin, to permit him to enter the race even though the moral turpitude attached to his crimes bars him from public office until 10 months after the November election.
One of Deri's associates confirmed to Haaretz yesterday that due to a change in the legal assessment of Deri's status, he decided to appeal directly to Rivlin and not request that President Shimon Peres use his authority to lift the ban. The associate added that Deri had not made a final decision on whether to contest the mayoralty. Deri himself was not immediately available for comment.
Deri's political schedule began early yesterday morning when he entered the home of Rabbi Elyashiv in Jerusalem's Mea Shearim neighborhood. "The rabbi gave him his blessing," a Deri associate said. Sources close to Elyashiv said that Deri was "welcomed with great affection" and reported that the latter asked Elyashiv "a personal question regarding Jewish law" that was only indirectly related to the mayoral election.
The meeting's main significance is that it took place. Porush, whose relations with Elyashiv have been troubled since the local elections late last year in Beitar Illit, has still not met with the prominent rabbi or obtained his support. After his meeting with Elyashiv, Deri met with Rabbi Ovadia, who extended his unlimited support for Deri's candidacy.
Porush lost Rabbi Ovadia's support last week, but Deri's meeting with Elyashiv came as a particular blow to the UTJ Knesset member. It rendered Porush's dream of becoming Jerusalem's mayor much less likely and could reshuffle the ultra-Orthodox political cards in the capital, where the influence of the Lithuanian Haredi leader is significant.
Porush has many detractors in UTJ, including party chairman MK Avraham Ravitz, but so far the party's spiritual leader has not taken any steps against him in the mayoral race.
According to an agreement signed in 2003, when its representative Uri Lupolianski was elected Jerusalem mayor, UTJ is obligated to support the candidate chosen by UTJ member Agudath Yisrael, which Porush represents, in the 2008 vote. Agudath Yisrael chose Porush.
Elyashiv's agreement to meet with Deri is a clear signal on the former's preference and is likely to have a significant impact on the city's Haredi leaders and voting public. Nevertheless, according to a member of Elyashiv's inner circle yesterday: "It's hard to see the possibility of Rabbi Elyashiv standing up and saying that the agreement that was signed is null and void. Porush has a precious asset in hand, the agreement, and there is almost nothing to be done against that."
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