Shas party leader MK Aryeh Deri launched an unprecedented public attack on Eli Yishai, his predecessor at the helm of the ultra-Orthodox Sephardic party, Saturday night, saying Yishai had refused to help promote Deri’s candidate for Jerusalem mayor, Moshe Lion.
“I turned to Eli Yishai and he decided he didn’t want to help,” Deri told Channel 2’s Meet the Press. “Eli Yishai was invited to [the ultra-Orthodox city] Elad, and he didn’t want to come. He was asked to speak and he refused to come.”
Since the death of Shas’s founder and longtime leader, former chief rabbi Ovadia Yosef, earlier this month, Yishai and Deri have been at loggerheads.
Yishai, who chaired the party while Deri served out a prison sentence for embezzlement, was summarily ousted from the chairmanship earlier this year, several months after Deri launched a political comeback.
Yishai retains the allegiance of a majority of the party’s MKs, and speculation is rife about a possible split in the Knesset faction.
In his interview Saturday, Deri appealed directly to Yishai to remain in Shas.
“Eli, come with us,” he said. “Your home with us; come work with us, together. Enough… It hurts Shas. There’s no doubt in my mind that reports about a split in Shas have harmed the party.
During the interview, Deri also distanced himself from Lion, who ended up losing last week’s mayoral election to Nir Barkat, the incumbent, despite the vocal support of Deri and the Yisrael Beytenu party’s powerful leader, MK Avigdor Liberman.
“Moshe Lion was the Likud-Beytenu’s candidate; it wasn’t my idea,” he said. “In previous elections when there was a haredi candidate, the Orthodox and haredi communities in Jerusalem wanted [to vote for] their own candidate.”
Shas, Deri said, contradicting reports that he and Liberman had handpicked Lion, had only endorsed Lion “after [it became clear] that there was no haredi candidate and Liberman had gained the support of the haredi parties.”
He then went on to accuse the haredi parties of “crowning” Barkat mayor.
“They reneged on my understandings with Liberman at the last moment” and voted for Barkat, he said.