Deri Asks Election Committee Chief to Sanction Bid for Jerusalem Mayor

Former Shas chairman Aryeh Deri asked the head of the Central Elections Committee yesterday to allow him to run for mayor of Jerusalem, a necessary step in overcoming the ban on him running for public office that was imposed because of the 10 months in prison he once served for corruption offenses.

Deri asked the committee's chairman and Supreme Court vice president, Justice Eliezer Rivlin, to rule that he is entitled to run for the post.

Deri, who has also served as Interior Minister, claims that the law requiring a seven-year waiting period from the end of his sentence was enacted only after the judgment on him was handed down. The Elections Committee has not yet set a date for ruling on the issue.

Deri said the matter was in Rivlin's hands and "if the judge agrees, then I am running." His announcement ends a week of press speculation on whether he would run for the post.

Deri served two years in prison for accepting bribes, fraud and breach of trust - offenses that were deemed as involving moral turpitude. By law, this bars him from running for public office for a specified period of time. Deri entered prison on September 1, 2001 and was sentenced to three years, but was released early on July 3, 2002.

According to current law, the seven-year period would not end until September 2010. However, under the law that existed at the time of his conviction in 2000, the period would have ended last year, after six years - which could permit a court to approve his participation in the elections, claim Deri and his lawyer, Zvi Agmon. The new, seven-year law was passed by the Knesset three months after Deri entered prison.

But there are at least two other possible problems for Deri.

First, his calculations for the start of the six-year period include starting from the date of his early release and not the formal end of his sentence, a controversial legal question in its own right.

Also, it is not clear whether the Central Elections Committee is the correct address for the request, because the question is not over whether Deri was convicted of moral turpitude - an issue not in dispute but under the committee's purview - but over whether interpreting the law is the committee's responsibility.

Deri's announcement came after separate meetings Monday with two senior ultra-Orthodox leaders, Rabbi Yosef Shalom Elyashiv of United Torah Judaism and Rabbi Ovadia Yosef of Shas. He received their blessings to run for Jerusalem mayor, which ultra-Orthodox MK Meir Porush of United Torah Judaism had been seeking as well.

Porush has yet to respond officially to Deri's moves and is continuing his plans to run for mayor.

Deri now expects to receive official backing from Shas. Shas chairman Eli Yishai said yesterday: "My support and the support of Shas [for Deri] is completely guaranteed and without any qualifications, and I already declared this before Deri decided." Yishai said he was confident that the elections committee would accept Deri's request.

Nir Barkat, another mayoral candidate, responded to Deri's request: "Jerusalem is a lifetime project, not a job." He said that "the game of musical chairs the ultra-Orthodox candidates were playing was irrelevant, and Jerusalemites were seeking a real change."

Current mayor Uri Lupolianski has already announced that he will not seek reelection.