Aryeh Deri - Back Under the Big Top

Just as the botched raid on the Gaza flotilla unintentionally set soaring the prestige of Erdogan - the "Anatolian Tiger," as the global media now calls the Turkish premier admiringly - the failed attempt to stop racism in Immanuel is beginning to lift up to the top of the trapeze that great acrobat, the sweet-talker of Sephardi ultra-Orthodoxy, the star reborn: Please give a warm welcome to the greatest of them all, Aryeh Deri!

Aryeh Deri
Tess Scheflan

On Tuesday, Channel 2 commentator Rina Matzliach was already calculating how Deri would shake up the existing political order with the new party he's going to establish alongside Shas. By the next morning, it had become fact. That's how it is: Channel 2 news doesn't report on reality - it creates it. Just look, the polls prove it. Because polls, you should know, do not seek to ascertain what people really think about things that have happened, but rather to goad things into happening. And after the pollsters determined that Deri stands to win at least seven Knesset seats, you can bank on those results.

And a very good day to you too, then, Mr. Yair Lapid. You thought you would be the main political Valentino in the next electoral round. You thought you would win the World Cup of Israeli sex appeal. Wrong! Deri has already bypassed you. Without even trying to write a moving book, without hosting television shows. With a little black hat and that Hebrew resh that no Lapid will ever be able to pronounce the way he does, Deri has worked his magic.

The star of local charmers rises every time the system gets bogged down, every time it gets stuck and there is bewilderment. If those who are bewildered are secular, they suddenly realize it's time to set up a centrist liberal party; yes, yet another. If they are Orthodox, Deri reappears in their minds - the on-call maintenance guy, whose magnet with the phone number has been on the refrigerator door for years. He wasn't so efficient last time, but at least he was nice. After all, if they phone some other technician whom they don't know, he might wind up being both a swindler and also not nice. At least they know the merchandise here.

Of course, the prerequisite for this to happen is that there be a malfunction, preferably two, that there be some element of frustration, preferably two. And that there be a yearning for a star.

What makes Deri special is, naturally, the charm of criminality, the ongoing game of hide-and-seek he plays with the law.

It goes like this. Act I: Deri as victim, the Sephardi Dreyfus, the great innocent one who was tossed in jail by the Ashkenazi judges of the Inquisition. Act II: He is deprived of the mayoralty of Jerusalem because the court of the evil Ashkenazim is not officially finished with abusing him. Act III: The hero is back in town to wreak his revenge. And then the racism affair in falls into his lap like ripe fruit.

True, the court is playing the role here of defender of the Sephardim and battler of ethnic discrimination - against those evil Ashkenazim - seemingly rendering superfluous the need for Deri to fight on their behalf. So, in this case, why him? Because the court can tie itself in knots or grovel on its belly, but it will forever be perceived as an anti-traditional entity. That is, anti-Shas, anti-Sephardi. And the prevailing attitude on the other side will always be: We don't need any favors from Israeli law to protect us against racism; we can manage just fine by ourselves with our own laws and our own rabbis. We only need state laws as a backdrop, an opening gambit, for our public relations campaign, because only cases that reach the High Court of Justice make headlines on television. But aside from that, please just leave us alone.

Hence, when Rabbi Ovadia Yosef came out against the court ruling, a ruling that ostensibly served the interests of his ethnic group, it was clear that Deri would soon pop out from behind his shoulder, the charming, romantic rascal! He will show the invidious secular Ashkenazim that if they think they're going to save the honor of Sephardim, then he will put them in their place. He's going to shuffle their deck. In the next elections they'll be running around like drugged cockroaches and won't know with whom to enter into a coalition first: the former Shas of Eli Yishai, the new Shas of Aryeh Deri, United Torah Judaism or the United Colors of Benetton.

Thank goodness, things always balance out in the end. Because every time an ambitious, charming politician is born, along comes another ambitious, charming politician who says to himself: Whatever Deri does, I can do better. They say his name now is Yoav Laloum. You don't know who that is? Just for that, he'll get seven seats. Believe me.