Give Deri a Chance

For those who insist that Aryeh Deri is forever disqualified from participating in upcoming Jerusalem elections, what about the principle that a person who has done his time has already paid his debt to society?

The possibility of Aryeh Deri's participation in the upcoming elections in Jerusalem has replaced indifference to the campaign with sharp debate about the suitability of a candidate convicted of accepting bribes - a conviction that involves moral turpitude - to serve as the mayor of Israel's capital. Into this debate, legitimate in and of itself, has entered the subject of Deri's affiliation with the ultra-Orthodox camp. It is claimed that precisely because he is talented and efficient, he might advance the city's progress toward becoming more ultra-Orthodox. To the secular and liberal Jerusalem voter, these two reasons are strikes against Deri. However, they should be examined without stereotypes and prejudice.

On the question of moral turpitude, legal issues and social norms become mixed together. In any case, if the question is indeed a legal one, the judicial system will decide on it; if it involves norms, the voters will decide. Would such opposition arise if the end of the "period of moral turpitude" had lapsed? After all, then it would be clear that Deri deserves a second chance, and precisely because of the concept of "once bitten, twice shy" - he would be watched carefully each and every day.

For those who insist that Deri is forever disqualified, what about the principle that a person who has done his time has already paid his debt to society? And for those who argue that the rough handling of Deri stems from concern over the dignity of the capital - what about the potential benefits as opposed to the damage involved in the office going to Deri, whose talents and abilities are not in question?

If we had an abundance of worthy and talented candidates, that would be one thing; but in comparison to those seeking election, there is no question that Deri is head and shoulders above them all. The city's inhabitants cannot allow themselves to be so fastidious that they put the law well above everything else. Jerusalem is in such desperate straits that even a magician cannot heal its ills. But Deri might be able to make this desperation easier to live with - even with regard to ultra-Orthodox-secular relations. This hope is based on his ethnic origin and the community he belongs to, which is devoted to him.

A cultural-social rift exists between the secular and the ultra-Orthodox in this city, which manifests itself in the form of territorial separation and seclusion - as opposed to an open and individualistic lifestyle. The need to assure homogenous living space in light of population expansion is what guides the city's policy toward the ultra-Orthodox, and threatens the lifestyle of secular residents, who are concerned over an invasion of their territory.

This conflict creates a tension that blurs the essential difference between the secular and the ultra-Orthodox: While the ultra-Orthodox are monolithic and hierarchical, the "secular" are in fact a nonexistent community. These are actually a cluster of people, among them many who are traditional and even Orthodox, with a variety of world views and lifestyles, whose common denominator is defined in the negative: They are not ultra-Orthodox. Therefore, "affirmative action" in their favor is problematic, since not only is it outrightly anti-ultra-Orthodox - and will create a precedent of sectoral discrimination - but the question will arise as to which secular sector is to be dealt with: national-religious or people with wire-rimmed glasses from the Cinemateque? And why they and not others?

The famous ultra-Orthodox-secular rift ignores a very large group of Mizrahi or Sephardi Jews, whose worldview differs from that of the Ashkenazim in that separation is not a precondition for the existence of their communities; the way they interact with the outside world is different. Their leaders have adopted Eastern European ultra-Orthodox customs, but most of their communities relate to religious practice and tradition more tolerantly and less zealously. Their interests are not identical to those of the Ashkenazi ultra-Orthodox; the latter treat Mizrahim suspiciously and patronizingly.

That was the historical reason the Shas movement was created in Jerusalem. That is also a good reason to endorse, publicly, the person who enjoys the enthusiastic support of thousands of Mizrahim who straddle the zone between the secular and ultra-Orthodox camps.

Perhaps discrimination favoring the Mizrahi sector will continue, along with the process of increased ultra-Orthodoxy, but there is a good chance for dialogue and cooperation between Aryeh Deri and the secular sector - as a result of ultra-Orthodox-Mizrahi tension. Of course, there is no connection between supporting Deri for mayor and fielding strong lists of candidates for the city council, which will ensure the interests of the secular population.

In 1993 Teddy Kollek was defeated because of the massive support of the ultra-Orthodox for Ehud Olmert, but Aryeh Deri actually sat at the Kollek campaign headquarters and contributed his wisdom and his experience to it. Now, despite the moral turpitude, he has the right to another chance, and it will be a pity if it is not given to him.