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Aryeh Deri

(1959 - )

Aryeh Deri is an Israeli politician. The leader of Shas, he is currently a member of the Knesset, Minister of the Economy, and Minister of the Development of the Negev and Galilee. He had previously held ministerial positions in the 1980s and 1990, but was implicated in a corruption scandal at the start of the 21st century and served two years in prison. He was reinstated as leader of Shas on 16 October 2012 after a thirteen-year hiatus.

Deri was born on February 17, 1959, to a wealthy secular Jewish family in Meknes, Morocco, where he lived the first nine years of his life. After the Six-Day War of 1967, conditions for Jews in Morocco worsened, and Deri’s parents decided to make aliyah to Israel in 1968. During the transfer, the family’s property was lost. In Israel, his mother sent him to a religious boarding school, in order to escape the poor conditions of the housing estate where they had been settled. Deri became involved in Israeli politics at a young age while studying in yeshiva and, early on, aligned himself with the Mizrahi-Sephardi Shas party under the tutelage of Rabbi Ovadia Yosef.

On December 22, 1988, he was appointed Minister of Internal Affairs at the age of 29 despite not being a Knesset member. He was subsequently elected to the Knesset in 1992. He remained Minister of the Interior until May 1993, when he became a Minister without Portfolio, before returning to the Interior Ministry in June. He left the cabinet in September 1993. He was re-elected to the Knesset in 1996.

After Deri was convicted of taking $155,000 in bribes while serving as Interior Minister and given a three-year jail sentence in 2000, he was replaced by Eli Yishai. Due to good behavior, Deri was released from Maasiyahu Prison in 2002 after serving 22 months.

In June 2011, he announced that he was planning to return to politics. He was re-elected to the Knesset in 2013. However, on December 28, 2014, Channel 2 released video footage in which Ovadia Yosef attacked Deri, calling him a wicked man and a thief. The same day, Deri handed a resignation letter to the rabbinical board of Shas, who refused to accept it. On the following day, Deri presented his resignation to the Knesset speaker Yuli-Yoel Edelstein, with his seat taken by Lior Edri.

Despite his resignation from the Knesset, Deri headed the Shas list for the March 2015 elections and was subsequently appointed Minister of the Economy and Minister of the Development of the Negev and Galilee in the new government.

In January 2021, Deri agreed to a plea-bargain agreement in which he was convicted of tax offenses and sentenced to suspended jail time. The court approved the agreement when Deri promised to retire. He immediately resigned from the Knesset before the High Court could rule whether his actions constituted moral turpitude, which would have barred him from serving as a minister for seven years.

Following the 2022 election, as a condition of joining the coalition led by Benjamin Netanyahu, Shas insisted that the law be changed, so it does not apply to someone who receives a suspended sentence. If adopted, the Deri Law would allow Deri to serve as both Interior Minister and Health Minister for two years before becoming Finance Minister. In addition, Deri is set to serve as Deputy Prime Minister for the administration.

The High Court announced on January 18, 2022, that Deri cannot serve in the government. Court President Esther Hayut stated “this is a person who has been convicted three times of offenses throughout his life, and he violated his duty to serve the public loyally and lawfully while serving in senior public positions....Having Dery in charge of two of the most important ministries in the government damages the image and reputation of the country’s legal system and contradicts principles of ethical conduct and legality.”

Shas threatened to withdraw from the coalition and potentially bring down the government if Deri was not allowed to stay in the government.

Deri is married and has nine children.

Sources: Deborah Sontag, “In a Divided Israel, Thousands Rally for the Ex-Shas Party Leader as He Goes to Jail,” The New York Times, (September 4, 2000).
Jerrold Kessel, “Israeli political leader goes to jail after emotional send-off,” CNN, (September 3, 2000).
“Former Shas leader to leave prison,” BBC News (July 11, 2002).
“Former Shas leader announces intent to return to politics,” Ha’aretz (June 22, 2011).
Yair Ettinger, “After split with Shas, Yishai releases ‘doomsday weapon’ tape on Deri,” Haaretz, (December 28, 2014).
Eliav Breuer, “Deri Law is ‘state-sanctioned corruption,’ MKs argue,” Jerusalem Post, (December 13, 2022).
Chen Maanit, “Bombshell Ruling by Israel's Top Court Disqualifies Netanyahu Ally Dery From Serving as Minister,” Haaretz, (January 18, 2023).

Photo: Wikimedia, [CC BY 3.0 (], via Wikimedia Commons.