After 13 Years Dreaming of Shas, Deri Can’t Just Walk Away

The resigned Shas leader will probably relent in the end and return to head the party – but his 'please twist my arm' tactic can only go so far.

Olivier Fitoussi

Aryeh Deri found himself on Wednesday in the situation of the French politician who was such a liar that even after he died some people were skeptical and wondered what he really meant.

It won’t help Deri that he submitted his resignation to the dissolved Knesset; until the clock strikes midnight on the last night on which party lists can be submitted for election to the 20th Knesset, no one will believe that his resignation from political life because of one nasty video is final. He spent 13 years dreaming of returning to politics and to the helm of Shas (he even tried to run for mayor of Jerusalem and was disqualified), and now, less than two years after realizing his dream, he’s going to walk away?

But it is unlikely that we will have to wait until late January for the uncertainty to end. Shas won’t last even a month in the chaotic situation it finds itself in following Channel Two’s revelation of what Rabbi Ovadia Yosef said about Deri some years ago. A continuation of this intense crisis will seriously harm whatever remains of the party’s already bruised and battered brand – which, according to recent polls, is not all that much.

The most likely possibility is that Deri will relent in the end and return to head the Shas slate in the election, though one must concede that the “please twist my arm” tactic he may be employing can only go so far. At a certain point, the situation becomes irreversible.

Another option is that recently retired MK Ariel Atias will be enlisted by the party’s Council of Torah Sages to replace Deri at the top.

The least likely scenario is that there will be no Shas in the next Knesset. A party that represents a large public, which for two decades has had two-digit representation in the legislature – 17 at its peak in 1999 and 11 today – is not about to disappear overnight like a Malaysian airplane just because of a fight, ugly as it may be, between the party chief and his predecessor.

The only firm conclusion that can be drawn from the events shaking up Jerusalem’s Hakablan Street is that all that had been whispered about in recent years, when Rabbi Ovadia Yosef was in the twilight of his life, turned out to be true: Without Yosef’s leadership, protection, halakhic rulings and dominance, Shas is not the same Shas. From an ingratiating, cohesive, blindly obedient movement free of personal and collective ego, it has become a boxing ring where there are no rules and anything goes. The council of sages that replaced Yosef is bland and lacks influence and authority. Deri had no trouble ignoring its ruling and resigning from the Knesset.

If Shas can pull itself together and be a presence in the next Knesset under Deri, he will clearly be running the show and the council will be no more than a rubber stamp for his decisions, at best.

Meanwhile, in Likud

The day of settling scores and knife thrusts in Likud, otherwise known as the party primary or a “celebration of democracy,” fell on the ruling party’s elected officials and contenders much earlier than they had anticipated or would have wished. This is the day on which they meet their sweet or bitter fate.

We have already written that this party primary is among the most dreary and meager that Likud has ever known. There are no sparkling new names, no “stars” from the outside, no people of renown or stature who are abandoning a flourishing career to enter the political arena. The Likud’s 2014–2015 model is not an attractive one, to put it mildly. Although according to current polls it has a fair chance at forming the next government, the “talents” prefer other parties: Yinon Magal and Danny Dayan have joined Habayit Hayehudi, Professor Manuel Trajtenberg is in the Labor Party, Maj. Gen. (Res.) Yoav Galant is on his way to joining Moshe Kahlon’s new party, Kulanu. And it is not the end yet.

Benjamin Netanyahu, who conducted a lengthy and fruitless search campaign, will try to find someone he can put into the 11th slot on the final list, which is supposed to remain empty for him. Let us see who that will be.

In the meantime, the sea is still the same sea and there’s nothing new under the sun. Netanyahu is running for the Likud leadership against MK Danny Danon. That is all we have to say on that topic, and now we can go over to the parallel procedure, that of the election for the list for the 20th Knesset.

The major vote contractor, MK Haim Katz, an official of Israel Aerospace Industries and the commanding officer of about 7,000 voters, is dividing his troops’ votes, as usual, between the ones he recommends, chief among them Minister Yisrael Katz, his partner in the big “deal,” and Knesset Speaker Yuli Edelstein. Everyone wants to be counted among Katz’s darlings, and quite a few people are trying to reach his heart through his personal friends, who are not in politics.

Haim Katz has developed his own method for parceling out votes on the day of reckoning: He sends his troops to the polling stations in two shifts, morning and afternoon. Between those shifts he takes a break to see whether his partner in the deal is keeping his part of the bargain and getting his people, who are supposed to give their votes to Katz, out to the polls. If he feels that his partner is keeping his end, then the deal is in force. If he suspects otherwise, he will change his instructions so that the voters in the second wave will not support the partner.

Transportation Minister Yisrael Katz is engaged in a titanic struggle with Interior Minister Gilad Erdan over the first slot on the list, which Gideon Sa’ar, who was elected twice in a row to the first slot in the party primary, was good enough to vacate for them. As we have seen many times, one’s placement on the list means nothing when it comes to giving out the government portfolios, but ego, the drive for honor and prestige, and the desire to show your rival your back while making sure that you never see his, are driving the contenders crazy.

Katz, Erdan, Edelstein, Silvan Shalom and several others have good problems, all in all. They are competing for placement, seniority, over whose is bigger, and for ministerial positions. But roughly one-third of the faction members are going to find themselves in what is known as “the dead zone”; few votes, maybe several dozen, can decide the fate of one or two Knesset members from the tribe and push him off the list. None of them is to be envied. On that night, they will not sleep well.