Commentary Magazine


He’s Back

It has been nearly seven years since Aryeh Deri plummeted out of the firmament of Israeli political demigods. For over a decade, the young, energetic, charismatic and phenomenally gifted leader of the Shas political party led what looked like a Black Revolution in Israeli politics, making it fashionable to be ultra-Orthodox, politically moderate, and Sephardic, raising his party to as many as 17 seats in the 1999 elections, and fixing it into the position of perpetual kingmaker ever since.

And then he was convicted of bribery charges, serving three years in prison and carrying the scarlet letter of “moral turpitude” which barred him from politics for seven years.

But now he’s back. Technically he’s got until next summer to cool off, but instead he’s announcing his intention to run, or at least to try to run, for mayor of Jerusalem as a stepping stone, a la Olmert, to national leadership.

The parallels to Olmert go beyond the holy city, however. Deri and Olmert are now in an epic struggle over who will be remembered as the most corrupt politician in Israeli history. Both the Shas party created by Deri and Jerusalem City Hall as styled by Olmert suffer from reports, odors, and my own personal witnessing of deep, dark corruption, kickbacks and cronyism and the whole bit. And Olmert has a good chance of going to jail just as Deri did.

In this week’s Jerusalem Post, former editor-in-chief Jeff Barak offers an argument for why he should not be allowed to run. Over at Ynet, Hanoch Daum offers a rebuttal, taking the side that Deri has been given a bum rap, and should be allowed to run.

If Israeli politics were dull, I would consider favoring Deri’s return just for the massive entertainment value he provides. (In his public defense back then, he sent out tens of thousands of copies of a video tape called “Ani Maashim”–the title a translation of Emile Zola’s defense of Alfred Dreyfus, “J’Accuse.” Here’s what I wrote about it back then.) But whatever you say about Israel’s current generation of leaders, boredom has yet to fall on the news cycle in the Jewish State. Him we really don’t need.