Op-Ed: Deri Blinded by Personal Ambitions

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derThere can be no question that the appointment of HaGaon HaRav Shalom Cohen as the official head of the Shas Council of Torah Sages is another Deri blunder, one that will most likely contribute to the downfall of the party in the next Knesset elections. While no one questions the gadlus of Rav Cohen chas v’sholom, he remains the wrong man for the job.

Aryeh Deri, the wonder boy who according to many is credited with building the Shas party and its affiliated institutions has lost his magic touch. His return to politics after a criminal conviction and jail term following a hiatus of over a decade signals the former Sephardi superstar remains out of touch and functioning with tunnel vision that does not permit him to acclimate to new realities. Shas has shifted to the political right during his absence, and Eli Yishai earned a measure of popularity. His hawkish views have become synonymous with Shas, and Deri’s dovish outlook and affinity for the political left is problematic to many Shas voters.

Deri is too concerned with maintaining his leadership role, constantly on guard to fend of coup attempts from supporters of Eli Yishai. His status was complicated by the petira of Maran HaGaon HaRav Ovadia Yosef ZT”L, compelling him to appoint allies to key positions – seeking to build a defensive mechanism around his leadership. Without Rav Ovadia’s absolute word to support his position, he remains vulnerable to critics.

There can be no doubt that during his decades of rule the late Rav Ovadia ZT”L united Sephardic Jewry. The late posek championed the call to return his followers to their glorious past and to renew lost traditions and instill a pride that was lost in many traditional homes. The natural leader should have been HaGaon HaRav Moshe Shlomo Amar Shlita, regarding whom Rav Ovadia stated on numerous occasions is the natural successor for Rav Amar earned his Torah through mesirus nefesh. Rav Amar speaks to the masses as did Rav Ovadia, but for Deri, loyalty supersedes leadership suitability concerns.

For Deri it is not about continuing tradition, but it is about remaining in power. He tapped the Yeshiva Porat Yosef rosh yeshiva to replace Maran for he knows Rav Cohen is an ardent supporter of his return to the party. Rav Amar on the other hand is viewed by Deri as an adversary. He told Army Radio’s Razi Barkai this week that Rav Amar was never a leader of Sephardi Jewry or in line to head the party’s Torah Council. Deri worked hard over yomtov to distance Rav Amar from a number of high-level events, including one attended by President Shimon Peres.

Clearly Deri blew it for Rav Cohen will not attract the grassroots Shas supporters, the traditional Sephardim who are unwilling to throw away their Zionism for the new Sephardi chareidi lifestyle which is synonymous with Rav Cohen. He alienates the Sephardim who serve in the IDF, the very same Sephardim that will have barbeques on Independence Day and fly the national flag from their homes and vehicles — the core Shas voters. Rabbi Cohen does not speak to them, rather his harsh comments prior to the last election has burned many bridges with many voters who also align with the dati leumi community.

Simply stated, Deri’s decision may yield short term benefit but the error of his ways will become painfully evident in the next election, even more so if Eli Yishai breaks away to launch a new party, which many feel will be the case.

Yosef Gold – Jerusalem

NOTE: The views expressed here are those of the authors and do not necessarily represent or reflect the views of YWN.

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9 COMMENTS

  1. Choosing the Rosh Yeshiva of the leading non-Ashkenazi yeshiva is an inherently safe choice.

    Shas has to decide whether to give up being a frum party and go the way of Bayit Yehudi (i.e. give up pushing Torah and instead push the IDF), or become hareidi even if it alienates some supporters. It no longer has the option to be both. If it goes all out zionist, nothing will differentiate it from Likud, and one might argue that those Sefardim who consider Zionism as a replacement for Torah have long since become part of Likud. By supporting conscription Shas would alienate Sefardi Bnei Torah. Remember that the whole raison d’etre dor Shas 40 years ago was to resist the movement to assimilate religious Sefardim within the zionist movement.

  2. Wow. That was an impressive analysis Mr. Gold. I had the same thoughts when I heard the news, but I couldn’t understand why Deri was making two tremendous blunders: distancing Rav Amar and embracing Rav Cohen. Your explanation makes sense. If it is the real reason for Deri’s irrational choices then I am disappointed that Deri put his own career above the success of the party.

  3. Harav Cohen’s anti-Zionist and anti Religious-Zionists views are certainly out of touch with the rank and file of Sha”s. I have heard and even read numerous comments by longtime Sha”s supporters who think that the Rosh Yeshiva’s views on this central issue have been influenced by Ashkenazi charedi thought and do not represent the longstanding support of Sephardic gdolim for Zionism, Religious-Zionism and the State of Israel.

    That being said, so far polls indicate that Sha”s is only losing 3-4 seats. Deri seems to be counting on party-loyalty outweighing other issues for the majority of Sha”s supporters and only time will tell to what extent party-loyalty can prevail over substantive issues.

  4. This Gold guy should stick to his day job. Political analysis will never be his forte. Deri was more successful with his left-of-center policies when he ran Shas the first time then Shas was successful when it moved too far to the right. This is a welcome back to the basics where it all began for Shas. Chacham Ovadia was no right-winger. Rav Cohen is the best man closest to Rav Ovadia. Rav Amar had a falling out with Rav Ovadia.

  5. Now with this article that YWN posted made me understand how comments with chutzpah against Gedoley Yisrael is condoned.

    By the way, Rav Cohen shlit”a is the perfect man for this job and will no doubt bring Arye Deri greater power. Who else but Rav Cohen can take better care of the so-called “religious” Zionists? It’s only anti-chareidi Bayit Yehudnik like this author who’s blinded.

  6. Although I agree with the general analysis, there is a thorough misunderstanding of Sefardic history. There is no need for Rav Cohen Shlita to get his outlook from Ashkenazic Yeshivos.This outlook was the opinion of the great Roshei Yeshivos of Porat Yosef who were even against voting in Israeli elections. There were Sefardic leaders who were very zealous and totally opposed to the state of
    Israel,like the Saba Kadisha,Harav Elifandri zatzal.Rav Ovadia zatzal had a very strong Yeshiva outlook and was still able to connect to the average Jew,an ability that Rav Amar has as well.However this strong Hashkafa does have Sefardic roots.

  7. Bad analysis:

    1) Once Deri is a leader there ought to be only one leader. Two leaders and two policy making camp will destroy any party. Once Maran picked Deri, Yishai’s policies will harm shas.

    2) Deri is a expert politician not only “the young charm”

    3) once he is assured the leader and policy maker of the party then he can do the right things to promote his party and it’s policies.

  8. Interesting article, but do really need to have such lashon hora and bizayon talmidei chachamim-filled articles just to raise this websites popularity??
    Yes, HOT TOPICS are hot, but they most often “burn” the writers and readers

    Pun intended