Deri: Court Punishing My Supporters by Barring Me From Jerusalem Vote

J'lem court bars former Shas leader from mayoral race due to moral turpitude conviction.

Former Shas leader Aryeh Deri said Thursday that a court ruling baring him from running for mayor of Jerusalem was an attack on residents of the capital who backed him.

"I am very surprised by the decision," Deri responded Thursday. "A large public in Jerusalem who wanted to vote for me and thought I was the best candidate is being punished."

The Jerusalem District Court ruled that Deri cannot run for mayor due to his conviction of a crime involving moral turpitude.

Deri, who retired from politics after being convicted of taking bribes in 2000, had said last month that he would enter the race if there were no legal barrier to doing so. He was widely considered a serious threat to the other candidates' chances.

Deri said he will study the ruling with his lawyer and consult with his ultra-Orthodox party's rabbis before deciding on his next move.

He is expected to meet today with Shas' spiritual leader, Rabbi Ovadia Yosef, with whom he has already discussed the ruling by telephone, and then with Rabbi Yosef Shalom Elyashiv, one of the spiritual leaders of the United Torah Judaism party. Both rabbis had previously given him their blessing in the race.

Deri has said in the past that he would not petition the High Court of Justice against the decision.

The former Shas chairman yesterday refrained from saying whether he would support the candidacy of Meir Porush, who was the Haredi (ultra-Orthodox) community's chosen candidate before Deri announced his interest in entering the race.

"I am a Haredi, who abides by the laws of the Torah," Deri said. "All my life, I was taught to listen to the Torah sages, and that is also how I educated an entire generation. I will listen to whatever the rabbis tell me regarding whether to support anyone, and whom."

He added that he make a final decision on whether to appeal the court's ruling soon. "I understand there's a timetable," he said. "I don't want to keep anyone waiting. I will not stay in the race until the last moment."

Under current law, an offense involving moral turpitude bars a convict from running for public office for seven years after his release from jail. For Deri, this period would end only in 2009, while the elections will take place on November 11 this year.

But Deri argued that he should be allowed to run for mayor because at the time of his conviction, released convicts had to wait only six years before being allowed to run for office, and by that standard, he was eligible to run.

Prosecutors, however, argued the purpose of law was to form an "obstacle for whoever was inappropriate for service in public office, in order to preserve the purity of public officials and of public service, and the trust of the public in them."