Friday, Aug 12, 2022

In Dramatic Move, Aryeh Deri Resigns from Shas

The controversy between the Shas party and Eli Yishai, who left two weeks ago to found his own party, reached crisis proportions on Tuesday night when Aryeh Deri formally handed in a letter of resignation to Knesset chairman Yuli Edelstein. After the two signed the letter, Edelstein declared to Deri, “My heart is with you in the storm you are going through.”

It should be understood that a crisis for Shas – a party founded in 1984 by Rav Elazar Menachem Man Shach zt”l – impacts all of chareidi Jewry in Israel, because any loss in its electoral strength can cause drastic changes on the political map and the ability to form a rightist-religious coalition.

Last time around, internal splits in Shas caused a loss of enough frum votes to exclude the frum parties from the coalition, which led to a massive battle against the Torah community in Israel. Millions of dollars have been lost, mosdos closed, and children go to bed hungry because of that lost opportunity. The tragedy will be compounded if this rift festers and Shas is allowed to self-destruct.

United Torah Judaism (UTJ) and Shas have their share of disagreements and different approaches to vital matters, but all agree that a strong Shas is important for the entire community.

Deri’s move was triggered by Israeli TV playing videos in which people around Rav Ovadia Yosef zt”l are seen instigating him against Deri during the period when he was out of Shas. Rav Yosef is heard saying that he was hesitant to bring Deri back into Shas because 30-40% of the party’s supporters believed that the charges against Deri that sent him to jail were justified. Those supporters would bolt from Shas, causing a loss to the party in the upcoming elections and stripping it of funding needed to operate its many Torah institutions, which serve tens of thousands of students.

The video included other embarrassing statements, which were taken out of context by an exultant national media.

Apparently, the release of the videos deeply affected Deri, who decided that he had enough of public life and did not possess the strength and stamina to continue to lead the party.

Deri chaired the party during its early days and brought it to heights never achieved by any other frum party in the history of the country. Deri was a king and a kingmaker. Corruption charges were brought against him and he was jailed for a number of years. He was subsequently returned to his previous position by Rav Yosef, the party’s founder and leader, who always referred to Deri in public with extreme respect and love until the end of his life.

Shortly after the incident that triggered Deri’s resignation, Rav Yosef’s sons, Chief Rabbi Rav Yitzchak, Rav David of the Moetzet Chachmei Hatorah of Shas, and Rav Moshe, who is seen speaking to his father in the video, went to Rav Ovadiah’s kever to pray for unity. Many thousands, led by prominent rabbonim, arrived at the kever and cried out in tefillah.

“We’re here to protest the awful dishonor done to our father’s memory, a dishonor of the Torah,” Rav David Yosef said. “We’re here to express our pain over what was done. We’re asking for forgiveness, father.”

The videos caused an extreme backlash and were spoken of nationwide all day on Monday and Tuesday.

Deri tendered his resignation from the Shas party on Monday in protest of the propaganda that slurred his name and the legacy of Shas.

“You must understand, after the contempt of the Torah and the chillul Hashem that occurred yesterday, I am not prepared for any more damage to the great legacy of Maran zt”l,” he wrote in his resignation addressed to the Shas Moetzet.

At an emergency Monday night meeting, the Shas Moetzet rejected his resignation with an announcement that it had gathered to protest and weep over the honor of Rav Ovadiah, which was publicly disgraced “by people seeking glory and power,” and that it “vehemently rejects the request of Aryeh Deri to resign. We enjoin him to continue in his post with strength and dignity.”

The Moetzet emphasized its ongoing support for “our friend the chairman of Shas, Aryeh Deri, who has given his soul to the continuation of these holy endeavors – the fortification of the wall of religion in the State of Israel, listening to the cry of the poor and relieving the downtrodden, and acting against the harsh decrees. Thank G-d, he never veered from our supervision and all he did succeeded with Hashem’s blessing.”

The Moetzet enjoined all to follow Deri’s leadership and to refrain from controversy. Rav Shalom Cohen, who heads the Moetzet, then led a delegation to Deri’s home to ask him to remain at the head of the party. He was not home.

When he heard of the Moetzet’s response, Deri said that despite their refusal to accept his resignation, he was determined to leave, but that he would personally speak to each of the Moetzet members. On Tuesday, he visited them at their respective homes, speaking to Rav Shalom Cohen, Rav Shimon Ba’adani, Rav David Yosef and Rav Moshe Maya. He then announced that he would tender his resignation from the Knesset Tuesday evening at 7:30 p.m.

With the escalation of the controversy, Shas MKs said that “the time has come for the gedolei Yisroel to do everything they can to mediate the dispute.” They all lined up behind Deri and begged him to remain, as did Shas leaders and members all across the country. There was an across-the-board plea to Deri to remain and lead the party into the upcoming elections in March.

Earlier in the week, at a special meeting of Shas MKs, Deri instructed everyone present not to attack Eli Yishai or his new party, and asked Shas representatives around the country not to get involved with the subject at all. In a call for unity, Deri pleaded, “I am not closing the door to Eli Yishai. I am not closing any door. We are mature people. If possible, we must put our heads down and make peace rather than raise our heads in controversy, but until a certain point. I have a sense and a feeling, not entirely irrational, that we will be a big surprise in these elections.”

Calls From All Sides To Desist

Chareidi leaders of all stripes publicly called upon Deri not to go through with his resignation. Baba Baruch Abuchatzeira of Netivot, MK Moshe Gafni and MK Yaakov Litzman all wrote letters to Deri asking him to remain.

Yerushalayim Chief Sefardic Rabbi Rav Shlomo Amar attempted to negotiate a face-saving deal to allow Yishai to climb down from his precipice, visiting Shas chairman Rav Shalom Cohen on Tuesday evening to try to work out a deal. Earlier, Rav Amar met with Yishai’s spiritual patron, Rav Meir Mazuz. 25 deputy mayors of Shas also visited the two rabbonim and begged them to find a way out.

In a letter of chizuk, Baba Baruch Abuchatzreira wrote in the name of “all the rabbonim of my holy family” that Deri should disregard the evil perpetrated against him.

“It is well-known that you have stood as a principal emissary of the rabbonim for the sake of the Jewish people and Toras Yisroel, setting up Torah institutions, talmudei Torah, yeshivos, seminars and mikvaos in every place in the Holy Land for dozens of years. There is no need to elaborate about this. Boruch Hashem, you still have the strength to continue and act in that path in these times and especially at a time when people rise against us to spiritually destroy us. Therefore, you have no heter at all to leave your holy mission. You are a shaliach tzibbur who may not turn down [what he is asked] at this time.”

UTJ MK Moshe Gafni wrote to Deri, “At a time when people are doing so much to hurt the chareidi public, we have a supreme obligation, certainly at this time, to ensure not only that the chareidi representation in the Knesset is not harmed, but to cause it to increase its power.”

UTJ MK Yaakov Litzman called upon him to “save the ship from sinking, chalilah. Reconsider the step you have taken and continue your holy work as Shas chairman. This is the time to show public responsibility and go in the path of togetherness and united action.”

Rav Tzvi Boran, a dayan with the Supreme Rabbinical Court for over 30 years, said that “Deri’s resignation is a churban for the Torah world and for the chinuch of Jewish children.” He wept at the kever of Rav Shimon Bar Yochai in Miron for the restoration of peace in the Shas camp.

Shas Moetzet member Rav Shimon Ba’adani wrote a razor-sharp letter to Yishai, accusing him of deception and aggression.

“For the past two years, I drew you near,” he wrote. “I tried to honor you. I ensured that you received a senior position in the holy movement more than all the other MKs, but without success. All the measures we took did not help and you refused to accept the authority of the movement’s leadership.

“I understood that it was difficult for you. Therefore, I was unreasonably patient with you despite constant rumors that you were deceiving me and behaving deviously all the time. Acting behind my back and negotiating with destroyers of religion [Bayit Yehudi leaders] who supported the harshest laws enacted against chareidi, you continued to secretly act to split the party. Secretly, you sowed quarrel and controversy.”

Rav Ba’adani wrote how he opposed Yishai’s initiative from the beginning.

“I spoke peace and you, unfortunately, were for war. You promised me that you did not intend to set up a party and that you would not rebel against the Moetzet chachamim. Even more, when Rav Mazuz came to me and spoke to me, and showed me all the suggestions I gave you and said that they were excellent, and added that it was clear that two kings could not share one crown and that there was no reason you could not remain united, yet said that you could not accept all this and therefore needed to go alone, but promised that you would not harm Shas, I opposed it. I said that it was impossible for this not to lead to controversy and that it was impossible that it would not damage Shas.

“People who split off in the past also claimed that they would not harm Shas and that they would take [voters] from other [parties], yet Maran [Rav Ovadiah Yosef] wept and cried out about it. In the end, three mandates that were lost [in the last elections] brought about the evil coalition and government we now have, which fights against Torah institutions and the poor.

“What I feared was going to happen indeed happened when I heard that you publicized [that Rav Ovadiah said of you], ‘In my whole house he is faithful,’ and spoke in his name as if he would have supported you. Is this how to care for Maran’s house? The house of Maran is not wood and stone on Rechov Hakablan. His house is the institutions he established and sacrificed for…and especially the holy Shas movement, which is the factory of all these projects. How could you dare mention the house of Maran together with the actions you took to destroy his house?

“Retract, and do not cause the destruction of the Shas party at a time when there is danger that yeshivos will be destroyed,” Rav Ba’adani wrote. “…Desist from using Maran’s name… You are thinking of fulfilling, ‘Let my soul die with the Plishtim,’ [acting in desperation] and destroying your portion in both this world and the next.”

Even as Deri was about to resign from the Knesset on Tuesday evening, he first participated in a Shas meeting where Shas MKs made last, desperate attempts to persuade him to change his mind.

On Tuesday, Moetzet member Rav David Yosef arrived at a protest tent opposite Deri’s home near a different tent that was set up by activists who had tried to prevent the split and now say that they will remain there until Deri retracts his resignation.

“I call upon Rav Aryeh Deri to come back,” Rav David cried out. “We will not rest or be quiet until Aryeh Deri returns to the position of Shas chairman.” 

It should be noted that although Deri resigned from the Knesset, it has little significance, as the Knesset is presently on election recess and is only meeting for exceptional circumstances. Deri can still return to the party and lead it in the elections and the next governing coalition.

A poll publicized by the Knesset channel after Deri’s resignation indicated that despite the media’s attempt to deal Deri and Shas a mortal blow, the party’s strength remained unchanged, while Yishai’s popularity may have dipped. If elections were held now, Shas would get 5 seats, while Yishai’s party would not pass the electoral threshold.

As for the other parties, another poll predicted Likud and Labor getting 24 mandates apiece, Bayit Yehudi 16, Moshe Kachlon’s Kulanu party 10, Yesh Atid 9, Yisrael Beiteinu 8, UTJ 7, and Meretz 5. Likud and Labor-Hatnuah are playing a balancing act, each one getting a little more than 22 seats in polls.

What is the lesson for us? Through the bitter golus, we must take delight in helping each other, not in cynically mocking others. We must seek to bring people together, not drive them apart.

We should conduct ourselves as bearers of a regal tradition, not as gossipers.

Enough to partitions and divisions. Enough to sinas chinom and delighting in the downfall of others, which cause us to remain in golus.

Let us all work together to bring shalom and achdus everywhere in our world.

**********

LAPID PLAYS THE CHAREIDI CARD

Despite four of six Hatnuah MKs announcing their resignation from Tzipi Livni’s party and leaving behind only one of the party’s original MKs, the prospect of the Labor-Hatnuah alliance beating Likud in the next election spurred Netanyahu to hire the services of Republican strategist and pollster John McLaughlin, who has helped dozens of U.S. congressmen and senators and worked for Netanyahu previous to the 2009 election.

A new study of the Israel Democracy Institute cited by Haaretz provides a deeper understanding of why many voters left the secular Likud party for Naftali Bennet’s supposedly religious Bayit Yehudi party.

As Naftali Bennett has long maintained, the study found that of the 22% of Israeli Jews who consider themselves part of the religious Zionist camp, a third are irreligious. Only 49% of the national religious camp is religious Zionist, and of those, the percentage of chardalniks (the most religious members of Bayit Yehudi party represented by the party’s Tekumah faction) is only 6%.

These figures, the study concluded, “raised the possibility that in the discourse and thought of the Israeli Jewish population today, the national-religious camp is a social-political category affinity that is not based purely on religiosity.”

Knowing this very well, Bennett has been making the party more secular-friendly, bringing in non-observant MK Ayelet Shaked as the party’s chairman and demanding an increase in the party’s secular representation.

Prof. Asher Cohen of Bar-Ilan University, a candidate MK for Bayit Yehudi, agreed to this conclusion.

“Bennett intuitively realized some years ago the precise sociology of this group,” he said. “Suddenly it turns out that there are masses of people who do not conform to the national-religious definition but do identify [as such]. This is a response to the rabbis who say, ‘If there are secular representatives in Bayit Yehudi it is not a religious party’… Bayit Yehudi is an open camp with a religious Zionist foundation around which are very supportive circles. Some of those joining do not like elitism and extremism.”

Noting that 8.7% of national-religious Jews voted for Shas in the last elections, the Israel Democracy Institute study also concluded, “the national-religious camp paid a heavy political and social price for pushing Mizrahim (Sefardim) away from the focuses of power.”

A survey conducted by TRI internet research found that religious Jews favor Netanyahu while secular Jews favor Herzog. Among secular Jews, 55.3% said they preferred Herzog while 24.3% favored Netanyahu. Among Jews characterizing themselves as traditional, Netanyahu was supported by 48.7% while 23.5% favored Herzog. Among religious-chareidi Jews, Netanyahu enjoyed 74% support and only 5.6% favored Herzog.

***

NETANYAHU OPPOSES VISITING THE KOSEL IN Armored Vehicles

Reacting to a promise of Isaac Herzog and Tzipi Livni that the Kosel would always remain in Jewish hands despite the uncertainty of their positions on turning the Old City over to Arab hands, Netanyahu sarcastically inquired how they would reach it if it wound up in Palestinian territory.

“I heard there are some people willing to give the Arabs a capital in Jerusalem,” Netanyahu said. “I heard some guy (Isaac Herzog) and some woman (Tzipi Livni) say that the Western Wall will remain in our hands. How will it remain in our hands? As an enclave in Arab territory? And how will we get there? In convoys of half-tracks? By helicopter?

“We did not return to the Western Wall after 2,000 years to get there on half-tracks,” Netanyahu said. “The Western Wall will remain in our hands, and all of Yerushalayim will remain in our hands always, united forever under Israeli sovereignty.”

The Likud Party issued a challenge to Livni and Herzog. Would they unequivocally announce prior to elections whether or not they would consent to an Arab capital in Yerushalayim and how much of the eastern part of the city they would be willing to transfer?

“The citizens of Israel are entitled to know how much Tzipi, Buji and the Left are willing to give up,” they said.

Evading the issue, Herzog and Livni responded, “As usual, Bibi is using Yerushalayim for cynical purposes.”

Lapid joined the fray while addressing an economic summit, accusing Netanyahu of fear mongering.

“In three different election campaigns, Netanyahu has used the same tactic of instilling fear in us,” Lapid told his audience. “This is what [American advisor] Arthur Finkelstein advised him, this is what experts and psychologists told him. Make them afraid. Make them afraid of Iran, make them afraid of Hamas, make them afraid of Hezbollah, make them afraid of the left, of Europe and America, and then promise them that you are the only one who can save them from the fears that you yourself aroused.

“Yesterday, I heard the prime minister saying that he would not allow us to have to reach the Kosel in a half-track. Mr. Prime Minister, what era are you stuck in? It is good he did not say that he wouldn’t let us go back to the British Mandate, that he wouldn’t allow Nasser to close the Straits of Tiran, or bodily prevent the appointment of Golda Meir as foreign minister. This time it will not work. Because the Israeli public understands that fear mongering is not a substitute for statesmanship.”

Lapid then pulled out his famous chareidi card and began his own brand of fear-mongering.

“If Netanyahu wins the elections once again, isn’t it obvious to you what kind of government he’ll set up?” he warned. “It will be a government which is more right-wing, more religious, more extreme, and resting on the votes of the chareidim and Bennett. Do you have any doubt that this type of government will cause our international standing to deteriorate even more? Look at Russia, a super power. Do you really think that it believed sanctions would strike it with such impact? Do you really think the world does not look at us and ask itself if the time has not come for a frontal confrontation against us, a confrontation which will this time include the United States, with whom Netanyahu has dragged us to an unprecedented low relationship with his own hand and statements?”

As in the last elections, Lapid blamed chareidim for the country’s financial ills, threatening, “a government led by [Netanyahu] will annul all we achieved in the area of the relationship between religion and state. It will restore the inflated yeshiva budgets to life without winter daylight saving time, without a core curriculum school syllabus, and in particular, it will annul the equal burden which led to a 300% increase in young chareidim seeking work.”

It should be noted that there were two errors in the last part of Lapid’s speech. First, winter daylight saving time does not exist (and chareidim do not oppose summer daylight saving time either). Second, the increased number of young chareidim seeking work are not chareidim who went to the army in the past two years, as they are still serving; they are slightly older chareidim whom the draft law exempted from going to the army.

Unlike Herzog and Livni, Meretz chairman MK Zahava Gal-on clearly insisted that Yerushalayim must be put on the bargaining block.

“There will be no political settlement without dividing the sovereignty of Yerushalayim, and those who make statements like that do not mean to reach an agreement and compromise,” she said.

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