Shas Steps Up Battle Against Yishai With Campaign to Honor Rabbi Ovadia

After Eli Yishai releases tapes of Rabbi Ovadia disparaging Aryeh Deri, Shas launches campaign to 'restore' Rabbi Ovadia's legacy.

Olivier Fitoussi

Shas is stepping up the battle against its former leader Eli Yishai, unveiling a campaign to honor the legacy of spiritual leader Rabbi Ovadia Yosef, after the release of tapes that show him denigrating party chairman Aryeh Deri. The campaign launched Monday is called "Father, what have they done to you?!" and is meant to "restore" the memory of Rabbi Ovadia.

Yishai left Shas earlier this month after ongoing strife with Deri over the party's leadership, and now heads the Ha’am Itanu party. Yishai on Sunday released tapes of Rabbi Ovadia that reveal he only replaced the loyal Yishai as Shas leader due to heavy pressure.

In a clip from 2008, reported by Amit Segal of Channel 2, Rabbi Ovadia can be heard disparaging party chairman Aryeh Deri: “Thirty, 40 percent will run away from us. Why? Since the court judged him. Why did you take a thief? Why did you take a bribe taker? Thirty to 40 percent will not remain, they will flee. Why? Why should we do that? No one has anything on Yishai,” said Yosef to his confidantes, also calling Deri "too independent” and accusing Deri of not listening to him. Yosef also said Deri would betray Yishai.

Yishai reportedly turned the tapes over to Channel 2 News in an attempt to weaken Deri's position as Yosef’s successor.

Yosef also said about Deri, “Take a different party, make a different movement. What do I care? He can form a new movement.”

Deri responded to the tapes Sunday by saying that Yishai is trampling the rabbi's honor "for his petty personal interests ... Even in his lifetime he betrayed the trust the rabbi placed in him.”

In response to the tapes, Shas has turned its campaign focus away from cost-of-living issues to safeguarding Rabbi Yosef's legacy, party members said.

Some 40 Shas members gathered for a press conference Monday at Rabbi Ovadia's grave at the Sanhedria cemetery in Jerusalem. Among them were four of his children, including Rabbi David Yosef and his eldest daughter, Adina Bar-Shalom.

Rabbi David Yosef attacked Yishai, calling him arrogant and saying he cannot be forgiven for his actions.

"Yishai was dismissed by my father in disgrace, and now he is using any means possible to save his own life," Rabbi David Yosef said.

Another protest against the desecration of Rabbi Ovadia's memory is scheduled to take place Monday evening.