'Deri Has Much to Contribute'

"I'm sorry if Shas officials think I didn't like them. I have nothing against them."

This surprising statement was made by former state comptroller Miriam Ben-Porat. Between 1990 and 1995, Ben-Porat imposed three fines on the party for deviating from the election financing laws. The fines totaled NIS 4 million and paralyzed the party's mechanisms.

"In the vast majority of cases, the subjects of my scrutiny did not dispute my findings," Ben-Porat continues. "I feel that their willingness to accept the criticism graciously stems, among other things, from the knowledge that I focus on the issues and not on the people, and do not persecute them."

Shas officials felt persecuted.

"That surprises me," Ben-Porat says. "If they felt that way, it's their mistake. The only thing in Shas that bothers me is that no ethnic outsiders are allowed in. Just as I don't like [the concept of] two rabbis, one Ashkenazi, the other Sephardi, because we were not two peoples or a split people."

But you imposed heavy fines on them.

"The lawmakers imposed the fines," she says. "I only had the authority to reduce them, and if I remember correctly, I did this - imposing only half the fine allowed by the law. I was considerate, and am not responsible for how they view it. "Even the reports on Deri were exclusively to the point. Personally, I was friendly toward him. I believe he sensed that, that personally, as an individual, I preserved his dignity." You mean you thought his behavior was appropriate?

"Whatever was inappropriate I wrote and denounced. I did this not to slam him and not, perish the thought, to harm him. It is a shame. He has skills and charisma, and could have used these purposefully. He also has good leadership and communication skills, from what I saw. He knew how to gain the following of the masses."

Could Deri return to politics? Do you think that would be appropriate?

"He has paid his debt for his misdeeds, and I assume and hope that he learned his lesson. Since he has paid his debt, my understanding is that there is nothing preventing him from returning to politics. I think he is still a young man and has much to contribute." (S.I.)