Israeli ultra-Orthodox Party Proves a Big Loser in Local Elections

For Shas leader Aryeh Deri, one out of three victories in key mayoral races is bad - especially the loss to an Ashkenazi ultra-Orthodox candidate.

Yair Ettinger
Yair Ettinger
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Yair Ettinger
Yair Ettinger

On the morning of municipal Election Day on Tuesday, Shas chairman Aryeh Deri stood at the grave of Rabbi Ovadia Yosef and uttered a silent prayer. Afterward he said that “as believing Jews, we ask that he pray for us in heaven that we continue his life’s work with him, together. With God’s help we'll succeed.”

Although Deri prayed silently, his use of Yosef's memory over the past few days was clearly audible in campaign ads throughout the country. But neither the silent nor the vocal approach worked.

This month has probably been the toughest of Deri’s life. Just a year ago he returned to Shas after a 13-year absence and the stigma of a prison sentence. Two weeks ago Yosef, Shas’ spiritual leader, died and left behind a fragmented and confused party. Now Deri has suffered two crushing personal defeats in the municipal elections.

Deri had three tests — Jerusalem, Elad and Beit Shemesh. He failed in two of them. Although he succeeded in Beit Shemesh with the reelection of Mayor Moshe Abutbul, that city was the least important of the three. And Deri isn't the one getting the credit for Abutbul's victory.

While everybody is talking about Shas’ failure in Jerusalem, Deri’s worst defeat was in Elad. This small city east of Tel Aviv became the arena for a nationwide wrestling match between Mizrahi ultra-Orthodox Shas and the Ashkenazi ultra-Orthodox led by Yisrael Porush.

Elad, which has a majority of Mizrahim, Jews with roots in the Middle East and North Africa, has always been controlled by a Shas politician. On Tuesday Shas lost that control to Porush. Over the previous few weeks Deri had rolled out the big guns, including an enormous rabbis’ convention in Elad.

At the convention, Deri mobilized all the charisma and electricity he possessed and used the ethnic demon against the Porush family and Jews with European roots in general. He said that as far as the Porush family was concerned, “a Sephardi can't improve the city; an Ashkenazi has to be brought in.”

Everybody in Shas and the Haredi media missed the Deri of the old days, the one who released a 72-minute video entitled “J’accuse” in which he claimed he was innocent of bribery charges and compared himself to Alfred Dreyfus.

Although Deri can expect a few stabs in the back from inside Shas, he'll console himself by strengthening his hold on the party after having appointed his friend, Rabbi David Yosef, Ovadia's son, as a member of its Council of Torah Sages.

Shas chairman Aryeh Deri with Eli Yishai at the Knesset, Jerusalem, June 17, 2013.Credit: Olivier Fitoussi
Shas chairman Aryeh Deri at the grave of Rabbi Ovadia Yosef, Oct. 22, 2013.

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