Deri, Aryeh

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DERI, ARYEH (Machluf ; 1959– ), political leader of Shas in the years 1984–99. Member of the Thirteenth and Fourteenth Knessets. Deri was born in Meknès in Morocco, and immigrated to Israel with his family in 1968. He was educated in the Porat Yosef yeshivah and later in the Hebron yeshivah in Jerusalem. He was secretary of the haredi (ultra-Orthodox) settlement of Ma'aleh Amos, and in the years 1981–83 was a member of the Regional Council of *Gush Etzyon.

In 1984 Deri was instrumental in convincing Rabbi Ovadiah *Yosef, his mentor and patron, to establish Shas as a Sephardi haredi party, with the blessing of the Ashkenazi Rabbi Eliezer Menachem *Shach, against the background of feelings of discrimination within the Sephardi community. Deri did not stand for election to the Eleventh and Twelfth Knessets, concentrating instead on building the independent El ha-Ma'ayan Shas educational system, which soon provided education to tens of thousands of children from kindergarten age. In 1986 he was appointed director general of the Ministry of the Interior under a Shas minister.

Deri became minister of the interior in 1988, at the age of 29, even though he was not a member of the Knesset. In March 1990 he collaborated with the Israel Labor Party in bringing down the National Unity Government headed by Yitzhak *Shamir in a vote of no-confidence. However, after Shimon *Peres failed to form a government, he remained minister of the interior in the government formed by Shamir in June 1990. As minister of the interior he gained a reputation for his ability to make clearcut decisions on controversial issues, such as the abrogation of theater censorship or adjustment of the summer clock. He was subsequently elected to the Thirteenth Knesset, and was once again appointed minister of the interior in the government formed by Yitzhak *Rabin in July 1992, and as a result was ostracized by Rabbi Shach. Deri resigned from Rabin's government together with the other Shas ministers on the eve of the signature of the Declaration of Principles with the PLO in September 1993. At the same time criminal charges were brought against him, charging that he had transferred money from the Ministry of the Interior to various bodies established by Shas in breach of regulations, and that he had received bribes in the amount of $150,000, which he used to purchase apartments in Jerusalem, but which he claimed he had received as an inheritance from his wife's foster parents in the U.S.

The initial investigations lasted for close to three years, as Deri took advantage of his right to remain silent. Deri resigned from the government in September. The trial on the bribery charge opened in June 1994, and dragged on until March 1999, with Deri continuing to follow a strategy of remaining silent. Throughout the investigation and the trial Deri continued to lead Shas politically, and as his trial was viewed by many Sephardim as being based on discrimination, Shas won ten seats in the 1996 elections. Deri was finally found guilty of receiving bribes and sentenced by the District Court of Jerusalem in March 1999 to a four-year prison term and a fine of nis 250,000. On appeal the sentence was reduced to three years. The affair turned Deri into a martyr within the Sephardi community. He was released from prison in July 2002. In September 2003 Deri was also found guilty of breach of trust for the illegal transfer of funds from the Ministry. However, he was not given another prison sentence.

Banned from returning to political life for a certain period, Deri resumed his religious studies. In the meantime a rift occurred between Deri and his former mentor Rabbi Ovadiah Yosef, against the background of Deri's conduct and Ovadiah's choice of Eliyahu Yishai to replace him as Shas' political leader.


Y. Nir, Aryeh Deri – Ha-Aliyah, ha-Mashber, ha-Ke'ev (1999). video recording: Ani Ma'ashim ("I Accuse," 1999).

[Susan Hattis Rolef (2nd ed.)]