Former Shas Strongman Deri Mulls Bid for Mayor of Jerusalem

Shas council set to convene in the near future to discuss whether to support Aryeh Deri's candidacy.

Rumors that former Shas chairman Aryeh Deri will throw his hat into Jerusalem's mayoral race sent shock waves through the city's political arena Tuesday.

Deri, who over the past two years has repaired his rift with Rabbi Ovadia Yosef, recently spoke to the Shas spiritual leader about the possibility of running in the election slated to be held in November. Sources close to Ovadia said the rabbi pledged his party's support to Deri if he decides to enter the race.

The Shas Council of Torah Sages is set to convene in the near future to discuss whether to support Deri's candidacy and the formation of a party list for the city council. Still, it is not clear whether Deri would run as an independent or as a representative of the ultra-Orthodox Shas party.

So far, three candidates have entered the mayoral race: Businessman Nir Barkat, the leader of the city council's opposition; billionaire Arcadi Gaydamak, who owns local soccer team Beitar Jerusalem; and ultra-Orthodox Knesset member Meir Porush of the United Torah Judaism party. Current mayor Uri Lupolianski had previously announced that he would not seek reelection.

Porush, who hopes to receive the endorsement of religious voters, may lose much of his potential support if Deri announces his candidacy, sources close to the former Shas politician said yesterday. Some of the factions in Porush's own party are said to be debating over whether to throw their support behind him or Deri. MK Avraham Ravitz, the chairman of UTJ, recently said that Porush was "not worthy of being mayor of Jerusalem" and that Deri "was more suitable for the job."

Porush held a series of meetings Tuesday in light of the news that Deri was poised to enter the mayoral race.

Deri's name has been mentioned several times in recent years as a possible candidate for the position of mayor of Jerusalem, yet he repeatedly denied any intention of announcing his candidacy. Only three weeks ago, he told Haaretz that he was not going to enter the mayoral race. Yesterday, however, a source close to Deri said the former minister was "more interested than ever" in running for the position. Over the last few days, he has held several meetings with politicians and lawyers over the possibility of entering the race.

Deri was convicted in the past of accepting bribes, fraud and breach of trust, offenses for which he spent two years in prison, and his criminal record may make him ineligible to run in the elections. His offenses were deemed as having involved moral turpitude, and by law, that bars him from running for public office for a defined period of time. Under current law, this period of time would end only in 2009, while the elections will take place on November 11 this year. But under the law that existed at the time of his conviction, this period would have ended last year - which could permit a court to okay his participation in the elections.