On Tuesday night, Shas Chairman MK Aryeh Deri told Haredi Radio Kol Barama that the main reason his party will continue to support Jerusalem mayoral candidate Moshe Leon is not so much because of Mr. Leon’s qualifications (he’s an accountant), nor his long residency in the holy city (he just moved from Givatayim), but for one all important reason – because MK Avigdor Lieberman, the powerful, brooding, still in trial for corruption former Foreign Minister and head of the Israel Beiteinu coalition party supports Leon for mayor.
In Deri’s own words: if the Haredim aren’t united next week around Moshe Leon’s candidacy, they’ll be “losing the chance to take down the coalition in the next three years.”
A while ago, Jerusalem Mayor Nir Barkat refused to appoint a Lieberman associate, Dr. Vladimir Sklar, to a senior post on the East Jerusalem Development Authority, and Lieberman either had a bad hair day that day, or the cops were knocking on the door with more questions, or he just had an epiphany about replacing the current mayor with a far, far better candidate – whatever the real reason, Moshe Leon was informed that he was about to achieve something he had been yearning for all his life, become the mayor of Jerusalem, and that he must relocate from the Tel Aviv area in a hurry, to establish residency.
Israeli politics is so brutal and personal, a 1920s Tammany Hall politician could probably be made head of the ethics committee (and often is).
On the radio last night, MK Aryeh Deri (who also relocated to Jerusalem, after spending 22 months in minimum-security Maasiyahu prison near Tel Aviv) described what he termed “the opportunity.” He said MK Avigdor Lieberman is the axis of the current coalition supporting candidate Moshe Leon, and that all the Haredim have promised him their blocks of votes.
But anything less than a Haredi tsunami in support of Leon, deri warned, and the game would be lost. “We won’t be able to come to him later and tell him, look it’s not like we’re after you personally when we’re destroying you politically” by abandoning your candidate. “We won’t be able to come to him afterwards and expect that he break his pact with Lapid and Bennett.”
You can have plenty of issues with Aryeh Deri’s ethics, but not his political astuteness. He was and continues to be the most dangerous element inside the religious world when it comes to preserving Eretz Israel. He pushed his late mentor, Rav Ovadia Yosef ZTL, to approve the concept of land for peace on the ground of “pikuach nefesh” (a potential mortal danger that permits the violation of a commandment – in this case the commandment to settle all of Eretz Israel). Deri has one goal in mind: to replace Naftali Bennett as the go-to Jew in government.
In terms of the math, the two parties are almost even – Shas has 11 seats, compared with Bennett’s 12.
Shas will make life much easier on the pro peace settlement forces inside and outside the government.
But Shas cannot co-exist with Yair Lapid’s vehemently anti-Haredi Yesh Atid party.
A major coalition surgery would be required to remove Lapid and Bennett, and replace them with Deri’s Shas and Shelly Yachimovich’s Labor. Shelly has 15 seats, compared with Lapid’s 19, but United Torah Judaism would happily oblige the new players.
This could be accomplished, Deri has been implying, if not outright announcing, but not without Ivet Lieberman. Only he has the muscle and the access to the PM that such a bold move would require. The Israel Beiteinu boss would have to stifle rebellion not only within his own very right wing faction, but in Likud as well. Without his political skills, such a blatant move against the National Religious and the Bourgeois Center could end up collapsing on itself. And if deri wants to keep the dream alive, he must, must, no question about it, must deliver Jerusalem for Moshe Leon.
Hedging his bets, local-Jerusalem and national, Deri has already committed to an anti-Barkat block comprised of the Haredi parties and Israel Beiteinu in the Jerusalem city council, which would effectively prevent the mayor, should Barkat end up winning, from cobbling a governing coalition. That would mean the executive in Jerusalem would not be able to pass laws or a budget. There’s a chance for education stats to drop even lower, and garbage collections to drift into the real of pure nostalgia in Jerusalem…
Israel Beiteinu is denying any connection to whatever MK Deri is saying. But Aryeh Deri knows what’s at stake: the Agudah council of sages has issued an opinion this week that in cities where there is no broad agreement among local religious parties on a candidate, each voter should “follow his own teachers.” That’s very bad news for Deri who promised Liebrman the Haredi vote, signed, sealed and delivered.
About the Author: Yori Yanover has been a working journalist since age 17, before he enlisted and worked for Ba'Machane Nachal. Since then he has worked for Israel Shelanu, the US supplement of Yedioth, JCN18.com, USAJewish.com, Lubavitch News Service, Arutz 7 (as DJ on the high seas), and the Grand Street News. He has published Dancing and Crying, a colorful and intimate portrait of the last two years in the life of the late Lubavitch Rebbe, (in Hebrew), and two fun books in English: The Cabalist's Daughter: A Novel of Practical Messianic Redemption, and How Would God REALLY Vote.
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