A game changer? Former Shas leader Aryeh Deri has announced his return to politics tonight.
Speaking at the Presidential Conference in Jerusalem, Deri said: “In the State of Israel, one can make no contribution without political power, and I therefore decided to establish a movement. I’m coming back and I wish to use political power for the sake of unity and public responsibility.”
Deri said he will form a new movement. He won’t be able to match Shas’ machine, but his personal appeal might win him many votes. The common wisdom is that Deri can get between 5 to 7-8 Knesset seats, depending on the political circumstances and on the identity of other candidates.
Deri was the all-powerful leader of Shas in the late eighties and early nineties. For many secular Jews, he personified the rise of a new Orthodox threat, so only few mourned his conviction in 1999 on corruption charges. The incarceration of Deri was used by Shas for its biggest ever electoral success – 17 Knesset seats – but ironically, while Deri sat in prison, it was his rival Eli Yishai which used this power to secure his place in Israeli politics.
Under Yishai, Shas turned from the centrist party which supported the Oslo accord to an extreme rightwing movement, hostile to the peace process and second only to Avigdor Lieberman’s Israel Beitenu in its undemocratic initiatives.
Deri, on the other hand, maintained his good ties with Kadima MKs and leftwing parties. The same camp who once rejoiced at his downfall now envisions Deri as the new messiah that could make Sephardic Jews support the peace process.
Is it possible? Could Deri be the game changer that will bring a center-left coalition into power? I find it hard to believe, but a person who met Deri recently told me “he is very serious on the peace process.”
Deri clearly aimed to this public when he told Ynet that:
“I’m not coming from a place of vengeance or ambition,” Deri said. “In every poll out there I get seven or eight Knesset seats, despite jail and all the other things that happened to me.”
Turning his attention to the peace process, the former Shas chairman said: “My great fear is wars. I never voted in favor of a war or military operation.” He added that his return is motivated first and foremost by a desire to bring the public together, “so that if we go into a peace process we’ll be united.”
2011 is not 1992, and there is no major force in Israel that could offer the minimum the Palestinians would settle with – certainly not Livni’s Kadima. Still, it is Deri, not Channel 2 anchorman Yair Lapid or any of the Labor’s candidates, which presents the real challenge to the Netanyahu-Lieberman-Yishy coalition (unnamed sources in Shas have already attacked Deri). And this on its own is something to congratulate.