Deri, Rabbi Arye

(1959- )
   Born in Morocco, Deri was brought to Israel by his family in 1968. He was educated at Porat Yosef Talmu-dic College and Yeshivat Hebron in Jerusalem. He became secretary general of the Sephardi Torah Guardians (SHAS) Party in 1985 and has remained in positions of influence since. He became minister of interior in the government established in December 1988, although he was not a member of the Knesset, and retained that position in the government established in June 1990. Under Deri's leadership, SHAS won six seats in the 13th Knesset (1992) and agreed to join the governing coalition headed by Yitzhak Rabin, with Deri serving as interior minister. However, SHAS soon left the coalition over differences with Meretz about religious policy and because of criminal charges against Deri. These charges precluded Deri's participation in the coalition government formed by Benjamin Netanyahu in 1996.
   On 17 March 1999, at the conclusion of one of the longest trials in Israeli judicial history, Deri was found guilty of charges of bribery, corruption, and abuse of the public trust. The court found that he had developed and sustained an illegal relationship with his old yeshiva friends once in government. The court found that from 1985 to 1989, Deri accepted $155,000 in bribes in exchange for steering substantial public funds to the yeshiva. The directors paid him off partly with the public funds thus diverted. The court determined that the bribes included cash payments as well as trips to New York and London and helped in buying a luxury apartment in Jerusalem. He was also accused of obstruction of justice during the nine-year-long case. The verdict outraged ultra-Orthodox Sephardic Jews (see ORIENTAL JEWS), who saw Deri as a champion of their underclass community. They proclaimed him to be a victim of bias both against religious Jews and Sephardic Jews of Middle Eastern and North African origin. On 15 April 1999, Deri was sentenced to four years in prison along with a substantial fine. The conviction was appealed.
   Deri's conviction became a key issue in the 1999 election (see KNESSET ELECTIONS) campaign, with opposition politicians emphasizing Deri's close personal relationship with Netanyahu as a symbol of the government's overall inefficiency and corruption, with secularist politicians (such as Yosef Tommy Lapid) linking Deri's crimes to the alleged overall corruption of the ultra-Orthodox political parties, and with many of Deri's supporters rallying around him and SHAS in the belief that his conviction was a politically motivated act designed to discriminate against both Sephardi and ultra-Orthodox segments of Israeli society.
   During the 1999 election campaign, One Israel leader Ehud Barak declared his determination not to invite SHAS into his coalition government so long as Arye Deri remained the party's political leader. This declaration posed a serious dilemma for Rabbi Ovadia Yosef and other leaders of SHAS: they could retain Deri as their political leader but remain outside of government (and hence, without direct access to power and influence), or they could distance themselves from Deri in order to join the Barak-led coalition. After much soul searching, Deri announced his formal resignation from the Knesset and from all of SHAS's political activities on 16 June 1999. This decision was approved by Rabbi Yosef and the other members of SHAS's Council of Torah Sages, thereby opening the way for SHAS to enter the government on 6 July 1999. Deri ultimately served two years of a three-year prison term and was released in July 2002. Although he resumed his place at the core of the SHAS Party's elaborate educational, social, and communitarian network, he has not yet stood again for election to the Knesset.

Historical Dictionary of Israel. .

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