Jailed ex-Shas leader tipped to run for Jerusalem mayor

By Simon Griver, September 4, 2008

Reports that former Shas leader Arieh Deri wants to run for the Jerusalem mayoralty has created a stir in the race, even though he may not be allowed to because of his corruption conviction.

Mr Deri, one of the most popular yet controversial figures in Israeli politics, has been out of public life since his release from prison in 2002.

He has remained an influential power behind the scenes, unofficially advising ministers and acting as a power-broker, while remaining a constant threat to the current Shas leader Eli Yishai.

Mr Deri's offence means that he cannot run for public office for seven years after completing his sentence. But this is not the first time he has considered running for mayor.

The latest reports follow talks he has been holding with his lawyers about the legal possibilities. The current view is that he will only be able to contest the seat if President Shimon Peres will commute his sentence.

The two main candidates are businessman Nir Barkat, championing the secular community, and United Torah Judaism's Rabbi Meir Porush. Mr Deri's popularity is such that if he ran he could take voters away from both candidates, changing the nature of the race.

Mr Barkat, the current frontrunner, said he was not worried by having to face Mr Deri as a candidate. Mr Barkat, 49, a technology entrepreneur who lost to the incumbent, ultra-Orthodox Uri Lupolianski in 2003, said: "We are focused on our efforts to make Jerusalem a better city.

"The Porush, Lupolianski and Deri gang is not up to the task of looking after a city which is the capital of Israel, the capital of the Jewish people and sacred to hundreds of millions worldwide." Before Mr Deri's candidacy was raised, polls forecast Mr Barkat's Jerusalem Will Succeed party would win 49 per cent of the vote on November 11, with Rabbi Porush trailing at 31 per cent and billionaire immigrant Arkady Gaydamak on 15 per cent.

Even though leader of the opposition on the Jerusalem Council is an unpaid position, Mr Barkat retired from his business to devote himself full-time to municipal matters.

Rabbi Porush, who twice served as Deputy Minister of Housing, said that he had met Shas spiritual leader Rabbi Ovadia Yosef on Tuesday evening after hearing rumours that Mr Deri wanted to be a mayoral candidate and received assurances that Shas would not field a candidate for mayor.

"My poor showing in the polls can be explained by the fact that it was taken last month before my campaign got under way," said Rabbi Porush.

"I think the long list of non-Charedi public figures supporting my campaign has impressed a lot of voters."
These include former Knesset Speaker Avram Burg, former Jerusalem Police Chief Yair Yitzhaki and former Ariel Sharon aide Dov Weisglass, though none of them live in Jerusalem.

Rabbi Porush, who insisted that he would not bow to pressures in United Torah Judaism to let Mr Lupolianski run again, pointed out that ultra-Orthodox voters come out in far larger numbers on election day.

"Bringing out the voters is my biggest challenge," admitted Mr Barkat, who knows only too well that only 32 per cent of secular Jerusalemites bothered to vote in 2003.

But he added: "The past five years of mismanagement and preferential allocation of resources to ultra-Orthodox institutions have persuaded secular and modern Orthodox voters that I am the city's best chance of salvation."

Last updated: 2:55pm, September 9 2008