At the end of a meeting in AG Avichai Mandelblit’s chambers Thursday regarding the finances of Interior Minister Aryeh Deri (Shas), the AG ordered the launch of a criminal investigation of the minister.
In 2015, Channel 2 News exposed Deri’s personal capital statement, which came to 4.8 million shekel ($1.28 million). That statement included only one apartment in the Har Nof neighborhood at the entrance to Jerusalem, which was purchased in the 1990s for $200 thousand and is now valued at about $1.2 million. Deri receives a budgetary pension from the Knesset and a stock portfolio of $300 thousand. He also declared a debt of close to $300 thousand.
Deri has made no secret of the fact that after his release from prison, where he served three years for taking $155 thousand in bribes while serving as Interior Minister, he was hired by more than one tycoon for a generous pay. Still, he claimed in an interview with Israeli TV that he only made about $100 thousand in four years.
Deri’s capital statement did not include his luxurious vacation villa in Safsufa, or Kfar Hoshen, close to two miles from Mt. Meron near Tsfat in northern Israel. Earlier on Thursday, Deri told a conference of mayors of development towns in T’veria about his vacation home, which belongs to his daughter on paper: “I admit that the Deri family loves the Galilee. … Yes, the Deri family has expanded and decided to build a home in Safsufa where we can vacation and spend the holidays. We all built it together, with help from my mother and brothers, and it belongs equally to my children.”
The immediate victim of an investigation with a warning of the Interior Minister would be the Netanyahu Coalition government. With two MKs, both chairs of committees, in an ongoing rebellion, Netanyahu’s government effectively relies on only 59 votes, dead even with the coalition. Should Shas now undergo internal fights, it would become less dependable, at least temporarily, with its MKs and ministers possibly voting to serve their immediate political survival needs. In view of the Supreme Court decision on private conversions Thursday, things will get a lot more raucous before they calm down again. God, and the calendar, did smile on Bibi, as the Knesset winter session comes to an end Sunday. At least he won’t be facing dangerous votes of no confidence that could bring him down until the next session, in May.
What would happen to Shas should Deri be forced to resign for the duration of his investigation? The entire affair could prove a boon to the party, which has been torn by internal fights between Deri and the former party chairman, Eli Yishai. The voters penalized Shas by cutting it down from 11 to 7 seats. Yishai’s splinter party did not get past the blocking percentage. But it’s doubtful Yishai would be requested to return, especially not by the Torah Sages Council, which will not forgive his betrayal. That leaves Ariel Atias, a former Shas minister who left politics when Deri was reinstated as Shas Chairman.
Of the two alternatives, there’s no doubt Netanyahu would prefer Yishai. But leaders of a 59-seat coalition can’t be choosers.