Is Disgraced ex-Shas Leader Aryeh Deri Planning a Political Comeback?

Former minister will soon end seven-year period of moral turpitude that began the day he left prison.

Aryeh Deri crossed the street Wednesday night in the Jerusalem neighborhood of Har Nof and entered the apartment building across the street where Rabbi Ovadia Yosef, the spiritual leader of the Shas movement, lives. Earlier that evening he had attended the wedding of Yosef's granddaughter, but they had not met there. "I only came to congratulate him," Deri said Thursday of the meeting, which "lasted no more than 30 seconds."

While Deri has met Yosef almost regularly in recent years on Saturdays, the unusual meeting prompted a wave of rumors on the ultra-Orthodox street about the former Shas chairman's supposed political plans. Deri denies the rumors.

Deri will soon end the seven-year period of moral turpitude that began the day he left prison after serving his sentence for receiving a bribe, fraud and breach of trust that prevents him from returning to politics. It has been known for a long time that Deri would reenter politics - Deri himself has said so - but it is unclear in which framework.

"The surprise will be great," said a close associate of Deri, apparently reveling in the ongoing mystery. "Where will he go? Deri remains Deri, with all his creativity," the associate said.

One reason for the rumors is an article last week in the ultra-Orthodox weekly Bakehila by commentator Yaakov Rivlin, who said Deri's first step would be through the front door, meaning he would ask Yosef directly to return to the Shas leadership. If the rabbi says no, he will resort to his creative ways, the article said. One rumor has it that Deri received a promise he would replace his close associate Avigdor Lieberman if the latter is indicted. (Devotees of this scenario prove it, ostensibly, by noting that Deri is now taking English lessons.) Another rumor is that he has received another high-level position from Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, or that Deri will establish a rival party to Shas.

Most of the suppositions seem baseless, especially considering Deri's desire to return to long-term political leadership, not just to obtain a job for one term in office. It is clear that as long as Rabbi Ovadia Yosef is around Deri would prefer to go through the front door and return to the party he built and built him.

That is Deri's predicament: Almost no one is willing to bet that Yosef will open the door and put him back in the Shas leadership instead of MK Eli Yishai. A source close to Yosef says he doubts Deri will approach the rabbi directly to receive the "right of return," and if he does, he is likely to receive an ambiguous answer.

The source said Yosef is not only satisfied with Yishai; he has deep reservations about Deri, who in 1999, when Shas was at the height of its power with 17 seats, seemed to outshine Yosef whenever the two appeared together. Deri himself has said that people should "stop looking for jobs for me. Nothing is going to happen soon."