Controversy embroiled Shas chairperson Aryeh Deri submitted a letter of resignation Tuesday night at 7:30 p.m. to Knesset Speaker Yuli Edelstein (Likud), after being discredited in video recordings released to the media showing Shas spiritual leader Rabbi Ovadia Yosef zt”l slamming Deri.
The dramatic step comes after Deri submitted his resignation to the Shas Council of Torah Sages the night before, which they rejected. He has since indicated that he is determined to resign as party leader despite the ruling, with Shas MKs warning they will follow his footsteps and likewise resign from the Knesset.
However, sources in the political system estimate that Deri has likely embarked on a well crafted PR ploy to gain backing and be reinstated by the Council of Torah Sages, in an attempt to minimize the damage to himself and Shas caused by the incriminating recordings of Rabbi Yosef.
In the recordings, Rabbi Yosef is seen in private meetings condemning Deri for his corruption that had him jailed in 1999 and explaining he didn’t want to reappoint him as head of Shas in place of Eli Yishai – and even going as far as to refer to him as “evil.”
Another recording revealed that Deri and not Rabbi Yosef was responsible for Shas’s shift to the left and support for the 1993 Oslo Accords.
As part of Deri’s damage control, his office released a letter sent to him by Rabbi Baruch Abuhatzeira, calling for him to remain in his post.
“I turn to you in an emotional plea from me and all rabbis of our holy family, to strengthen your hands and activities in all holy public activities, and don’t turn to the misdeeds and acts of the arrogant people, we stand at your right to strengthen your spirit so you do not fall,” wrote the rabbi.
Rabbi Abuhatzeira added “as is known you merited to stand at the head of the mission of the rabbi for the Torah of Israel and the nation of Israel to found Torah establishments, Talmud Torahs (religious schools for young boys), yeshivas and seminaries and mikvaot (ritual baths) in every site in the Holy Land for dozens of years. You don’t need to consider the publications.”
Shas MK Ya’akov Margi spoke about the PR element of Deri’s reaction on Tuesday to Galei Tzahal (IDF Radio), saying “they take it as a cynical process, that isn’t serious and just a PR stunt. But I think there was a serious blow here. Red lines were crossed. The process of resigning is very serious for Aryeh Deri.”
That opinion was supported by Shas MK Nissim Zeev, who founded the party in 1983, and told Arutz Sheva “Deri was hurt by the tapes circulated and the entire Israeli people heard that Maran [Rabbi Yosef – ed.] was against him. For Deri, this could have made him feel less confident. The Council of Torah Sages and Shas Knesset members gathered to express our faith in him.”
Ze’ev added that “Deri can’t just abandon ship like this,” saying he is certain he will be convinced to stay as head of the party.
Deri’s response to the tapes has also included a meeting of Rabbi Yosef’s children at his grave on Monday morning, asking for “forgiveness” over the “disgrace” to his honor. Members of former Shas chairperson Eli Yishai’s new Yachad – Ha’am Itanu party struck back, calling it a “cynical usage” of Rabbi Yosef’s memory by enlisting his children to save Deri.