MK Aryeh Deri is in the throes of an authentic drama and is not just trying to put some sort of spin on the extremely tense situation in Shas, close friends of the party leader say. And on Monday evening, when the elderly members of the party's Council of Torah Sages respectfully made their way to Deri’s home, after he had dispatched his letter of resignation to them – and with reporters and photographers waiting for the expected and well-orchestrated happy end to the story – they didn’t find the man at home.
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Instead, said someone who was present, those who directed the whole scene, in which important rabbis get down on their knees to beg for the return of the party chair, found only Deri’s wife Yaffa and his daughters there, crying bitterly. They refused to be consoled even by Rabbi Shalom Cohen, the head of the Council of Torah Sages, and stressed that Deri meant every word in his resignation letter.
“Something inside him broke,” they said, “they sucked his blood.”
Deri apparently realized, according to observers, that what began two days ago on the Channel 2 News is a world war that will only escalate, and from which there is no way out. One friend said that the coming days will be one long campaign of attempts, back and forth, to convince Deri to change his mind about resigning.
Let’s set all that aside for a moment, and return to the strategy adopted by the Shas election headquarters at the emergency meetings it convened after the broadcast of tapes on Channel 2, on which the late Shas spiritual leader Rabbi Ovadia Yosef criticized Deri’s public image as a “thief” and a “bad person.”
On the eve of Deri’s prison term, in 2000, Shas published and distributed tens of thousands of copies of the famous “I accuse” videotape, which turned out to be the means by which the party slate shot to 17 Knesset seats. Fifteen years later Shas hopes to recreate that success using similar tools.
At the time what was being "accused" were district court and Supreme Court judges, and the oppression and persecution by the white Ashenazi elite. Deri entered prison as a victim of all of these, received tremendous support from the street, and the rest is history. Today the accused are former Shas leader Eli Yishai and his gang, who offended Deri and the memory of Rabbi Yosef. Apparently Deri won’t return to head the party until he feels wall-to-wall affection as he did during the early days of his imprisonment.
Back then Deri, a victim of persecution, was borne on the public waves of compassion and anger resulting from his conviction. This week, as a result of an entirely different event – the airing of the videotape that placed Deri in a very dubious light – Shas detected anger among party fans. Not at Deri, not at the late rabbi who had reservations about him: They detected anger at the person who leaked the videotape, namely Yishai.
The party decided to suspend its planned election platform and to nurture this anger along with the following complex message: "Maran" (an honorific for Rabbi Yosef) is the victim, Deri is the victim, vote for Shas in order to restore them to their previous status.
A campaign is now being launched to deliver the first part of the message: “Father, what have they done to you?!” with pictures of Rabbi Yosef. His children were invited Monday to prostrate themselves on his grave and to beg forgiveness, claiming that it wasn’t them but Yishai who is to blame for the upset in Shas, as his son Rabbi David Yosef said.
In order to restore himself to his glory days, Deri himself wrote the dramatic letter of resignation (and it really is dramatic) and the elderly rabbis were sent out into the cold Jerusalem night to grab onto him so he wouldn’t flee. Deri is now insisting on receiving renewed, spotless legitimacy from as many rabbis as possible.
One of the strongest values in the world of Shas is the verse from the book of Ecclesiastes: “God will seek out the persecuted.” Since 2013 there was one person whom the Shas public has considered to be persecuted: Eli Yishai, who fell from the heights and was ousted in disgrace. Aryeh Deri has seen an opportunity to change places with him, and will now try to recreate the “I accuse” scenario for internal purposes.
Shas spokesmen planned the occasion well Monday evening – the decision of the Council of Torah Sages was written in advanced and printed – but something went wrong. Deri disappeared, as did Rabbi Reuven Elbaz, the head of the Or Haim yeshiva, who was supposed to be appointed a new member of the Council of Torah Sages.
This drama, whether real or not, will continue today.