Sunday, May 29, 2005

Shas Rabbi Reuven Elbaz, head of Or Haim yeshiva, indicted by Israeli Attorney General, on charges he arranged and accepted bribes


At 10:21 AM, Blogger jewishwhistleblower said...

The attorney general decided Sunday to indict Shas MK Shlomo Benizri on charges of accepting bribes, fraud, and breach of trust. (Archive)

Last update - 20:12 29/05/2005

Attorney general decides to indict Shas MK Shlomo Benizri

By Yuval Yoaz, Haaretz Correspondent

Attorney General Menachem Mazuz decided Sunday to indict Shas MK Shlomo Benizri on a number of charges, including accepting bribes, fraud, and breach of trust.

Benizri allegedly committed the crimes in the context of his relationship with businessman Moshe Sela from 1996-2001. During that time, Benizri served as deputy health minister, health minister, and minister of labor and welfare.

Mazuz will ask the Knesset House Committee to rescind Benizri's parliamentary immunity.

Among other things, Benizri is accused of taking bribes from Sela while he was minister of labor and welfare. Sela, a contractor and the owner of a manpower agency, has since turned state's witness.

Benizri is suspected of helping Sela and a number of other contractors win tenders for bringing foreign workers to Israel, in exchange for which Benizri received money and favors.

Some of the money is believed to have been transferred to Benizri, while the remainder was transferred to Rabbi Reuven Elbaz, who heads the Or Haim yeshiva and is considered to be Benizri's spiritual and political patron.

Mazuz also decided to indict Rabbi Elbaz, on charges he arranged and accepted bribes. Elbaz is considered one of the more influential rabbis in Shas.

Mazuz decided to press charges following deliberations with State Prosecutor Eran Shendar and Jerusalem District Prosecutor Eli Aberbenal. The decision was based on both prosecutor's recommendations, and forwarded on to the attorneys for Benizri and Elbaz.

The charges will be filed subject to a hearing, although a Justice Ministry official said that the hearing will be limited due to the fact that Benizri is only partially cooperating with the investigation.

At 10:27 AM, Blogger jewishwhistleblower said...

Last Update: 22/03/2004 01:17

Police arrest three in Benizri bribe case
By Baruch Kra

The police fraud investigations department yesterday detained Michal Malcha, the bureau director of former labor minister Shlomo Benizri, and two other Benizri assistants, Yitzhak Avidani and Amos Danieli.

The arrests came as part of a bribery investigation being conducted against Shas politician Benizri and his associates. Malcha's father, Rabbi Reuven Elbaz, was also put under house arrest yesterday as part of the investigation.

Police questioned Benizri, who is now a Shas MK, for eight hours yesterday. They also questioned nine other suspects in the investigation (all told, 13 people have been questioned).

Police sources said yesterday that the three-year investigation against Benizri will be brought to a close in the next few weeks. The sources expect a criminal indictment will be issued against Benizri.

The brunt of the suspicions relate to a period when Benizri served as labor and social affairs minister. Malcha and two other Benizri associates are suspected of offenses involving obstruction of justice and breach of trust; the daughter and her rabbi father are also suspected of bribery.

Benizri himself is accused of taking bribes.

New information obtained recently by police moved the investigation forward and enabled authorities to reach the stage in which suspects can be detained. Wiretaps installed by police investigators prove beyond a shadow of a doubt, the sources say, that some suspects in the case tried to obstruct the investigation.

The sources reiterate that the police have compiled solid information that incriminates Benizri. A multiple count indictment is therefore likely to be issued against the MK, the sources explain.

Benizri was questioned yesterday by the police for the fourth time.

Trying to forestall a possible effort by the suspects to coordinate testimony and obstruct justice, police investigators yesterday questioned Benizri in parallel to the arrests of his three associates and the detention of his spiritual patron, Rabbi Elbaz.

Benizri is suspected of having taken bribes from contractor Moshe Sela and his wife, in exchange for giving his consent to the employment of foreign workers by Sela. Police suspect the Selas gave Benizri favors of various kinds for years, including practically free living quarters in Jerusalem and free cleaning services provided by two workers from Eastern Europe. Some of the bribes, investigators believe, reached the pockets of suspects in the case, others were used for work on Rabbi Elbaz's premises.

Jerusalem District Court Judge Moshe Baram said yesterday that there is "evidentiary basis" to support the allegation that Rabbi Elbaz "received money, and in exchange took steps to ensure the money givers would receive preferential treatment in terms of policies enacted by the Labor and Social Affairs Ministry."

Police investigators believe Sela began bribing Benizri as early as 1998, when the Shas MK served as deputy health minister. Sela, investigators believe, helped Benizri find a place to live and the politician rewarded the contractor after he became health minister, by appointing Sela's wife to work in his office as an adviser.

Benizri stated yesterday: "This is a protracted investigation that has gone on for two-and-a-half years, and its basis is a malicious libel fanned by partisan forces ... I utterly reject this attempt to besmirch my name with false accusations."

At 10:46 AM, Blogger jewishwhistleblower said...


The Jerusalem Report
March 25, 1993
by Stuart Schoffman

Zionism and show business go back a long way. Herzl, remember, started out as a playwright, and if he'd been a better one "he did not populate his plays with genuine, living figures," wrote his faithful biographer Alex Bein he might have spent the rest of his days as the caf-hopping toast of Vienna, and who knows where the rest of us would be. Thus it's apt that a new show called "Melekh Hayehudim" ("King of the Jews") should be drawing big crowds at Habimah, Israel's national theater, even if the idea of a glitzy rock musical about Herzl seems iffy at first. The characters are big and cartoonish, and the story pushes poetic license to the limit, but the agenda here is not to plumb the complexities of Herzl's fascinating personality and career but to ring the Jewish chimes of a mass audience, particularly the young. This "Theodor Herzl, Superstar," written by veteran young-people's author Devorah Omer, with music by pop star Rami Kleinstein and lyrics by journalist Yair Lapid, is by turns ingenious, inane, entertaining, superficial, sentimental and no less didactic than Herzl's own plays. It has been recommended to teachers by the Ministry of Education and scenes have been broadcast on Educational TV's hugely popular weekly comedy show, "Zehu Zeh." I am all for getting the kids into the tent and turning them on to Herzl, but I came away from the theater troubled. There is a strand of xenophobia in "Melekh Hayehudim" surely unintended by its creators but just as surely reflective of Israeli culture which undermines what Herzl stood for as much as for anything: tolerance. In a scene rendering Herzl's historic encounter with the Turkish sultan, the latter is portrayed as a comic character of the sleazy bazaar-merchant genre, surrounded by belly-dancing concubines and forever breaking his word a cheap caricature that only buttresses the basest stereotypes of Muslims. Later, Herzl meets the pope, who says he will gladly support Zionism, if the Jews convert. This approximates Pius X's actual response to Herzl in January 1904, which may help explain, but doesn't entirely excuse, the fact that Habimah's pontiff brandishes a blazing electric crucifix and is flanked by clerical lackeys gliding by on roller skates, who sing a satirical song loaded with clichs about confession, celibacy and other elements of Catholicism. Like I said, I'm sure this was all meant in good fun, but I couldn't help wondering how these scenes would have been played if Israel were a country in which non-Jews went to the Hebrew-speaking theater. And maybe, ironically, such parochial insensitivity also suggests that the secular and religious world-views in Israel aren't as far apart as they seem, or claim, to be. Just the other night, I happened to attend what I can only describe as an ultra-Orthodox revival meeting. Jerusalem's huge Binyanei Ha'umah auditorium was packed to the rafters with men in black but also in jeans and leather jackets, plus a balcony full of women followers of Rabbi Ovadiah Yosef, high guru of the powerful Sephardic Shas political party, and the evening's headliner. This too was showbiz. Tough young security men forcibly prevented over-excited devotees from leaping on the stage to touch Rabbi Yosef or Rabbi Yitzhak Kedourie, the revered doyen of Jerusalem kabbalists. An Ashkenazic hasidic rabbi who had been maimed by the Nazis led the multitude in chanting an impassioned "Shma Yisrael." Ultra-Orthodox pop musicians performed upbeat tunes with sacred lyrics. Resplendent in his trademark gold-braided robe, turban and sunglasses, Rabbi Yosef spoke with calm authority about penitence and charity. There was none of the nasty stuff lately revealed on audio cassette tapes of the Rabbi's Talmud classes such as his remarks that the death of secularist Education Minister Shulamit Aloni would be cause for rejoicing, or that Meir Kahane was right for saying that we should keep apart from foreigners. That territory was ably covered by another speaker: Rabbi Reuven Elbaz, head of the Or Hayim yeshivah, renowned as the reigning champion among "mahzirim bitshuvah" those who "convert" wayward Jews into the Orthodox fold. For this reviewer, Elbaz stole the show. He was electrifying: a bearded Billy Graham in black gabardine, his every syllable charged with power and conviction. The Jews are children of God, he roared, and must not fall prey to "outside" influences, to television, to secular newspapers. He dismissed as superfluous the Hebrew-language revival led a century ago by Eliezer Ben-Yehuda he kept calling him "Ben-Eliezer" whom he also blasted for letting his daughter marry a gentile. And he heaped special scorn upon Theodor Herzl, the symbol for the ultra-Orthodox of all that's unholy, for having planned to convert the Jews to Christianity. True, Herzl was so desperate to find a cure for anti-Semitism, and so removed from his Jewish roots, that in 1893 he briefly discussed with journalist colleagues a cockamamie, characteristically theatrical fantasy whereby Vienna's Jews would march proudly into the St. Stefan Cathedral and become Catholics. But soon enough he dreamt up a grander solution, no less theatrical: a Jewish jamboree in Basel, a Zionist Congress filled with far-flung yidlach, all dressed up in formal frock coats like proper gentile gentlemen. "In Basel I created the Jewish State," he wrote in his journal in 1897. "Perhaps five years hence, in any case, certainly 50 years hence, everyone will perceive it." He was right on the button. But not all Herzl's prophecies have fared so well. In "Altneuland," his utopian novel published in 1902, he envisioned a new Jewish society in Palestine dedicated to the mottoes "Man, thou art my brother!" and "Let the stranger be at home among us!" Yes, Israel has taken in Vietnamese boat people and Bosnian Muslim refugees. But we remain, secular and religious alike, overly fearful of non-Jews, insecure enough to be on the verge of expelling Zionist Jewish residents who profess a belief in Jesus. Herzl would be sad if not surprised. When he visited Palestine in 1898, his Jewish enemies spread a rumor that he was a Christian missionary. "Altneuland's" emphasis on tolerance earned him the disdain of his ideological rival Ahad Ha'am, who accused him of pandering to the goyim. All human beings," Herzl concluded in his novel, "ought to have a" home. Then they will be kinder to one another." Maybe, in five years or 50, this too will come to pass.

The Jerusalem Report
December 16, 1993
by Peter Hirschberg

Shlomo Benizri is an ultra-Orthodox politician with an unorthodox style. The cha risma that earned him a movie-star nickname has helped him win over the media - but not his own party colleagues.


Shlomo Benizri looks like a man with a future. The 32-year-old freshman Knesset member is already a media personality - on one day last month, he was interviewed three times on the radio and twice on TV - and he makes no bones about his ambition to become a cabinet minister if and when his Shas party goes back into the Rabin coalition.

It's no surprise that the black-hatted ultra-Orthodox politician is comfortable with the secular media. His language is spiced with the slang of secular Israeli society. He grew up listening to Bob Dylan, playing on a local soccer team and starring in several high school plays. His good looks and charisma earned him the nickname "John Travolta." It was only during his army service, meditating on life in a mountain outpost, that he chose to become religious.

But just as his media profile is soaring, his stock in Shas, the Sephardi ultra-Orthodox party, is taking a nosedive. Two examples: a recent interview in which party leader Arye Deri dismissed Benizri as "talented, but still a rookie," and the fact that his colleagues "forgot" to invite him to consultati ons with party patron Rabbi Ovadiah Yosef prior to a crucial Knesset vote.

Benizri admits feeling he's being shunted aside. He says the only job he'd take in the coalition would be religious affairs minister, and that a position as deputy housing minister, for instance, would be beneath him. But to judge from comments made by Deri, who pulls the Shas strings even while facing criminal trial on corruption charges, Benizri won't be offered even that. Benizri, Deri said, "will not be a minister or even a deputy minister." Deri's choice for religious affairs is Rabbi Moshe Maya, another Shas MK, whose main appeal seems to be his total lack of political ambition.

Perhaps Benizri has only himself to blame. In his 17 months in the Knesset, he has become increasingly critical of the autocratic way in which Shas is run. At Knesset delegation meetings, where Deri has become accustomed to automatic nods of agreement from party MKs, Benizri dares to ask questions. "I can feel they don't like it," he admits, "but I'm not a puppet."

Benizri makes it clear that Rabbi Yosef's authority over Shas is beyond question and that it's what happens before Yosef is called on to make decisions that bothers him. Yet he strenuously denies that he is seeking to undermine Deri. "I'm not looking to be a leader," he insists. "Deri is the one who's got what it takes to lead Shas. He has the recognition, the connections and the talent."

How then does Benizri explain the tension between himself and the party boss? He blames the "poodles," the Shas party functionaries, for "constantly trying to create tension" between him and Deri. "The whole argument between us stems from the fact that I want to contribute in a more active position... in one of the ministries, where I can give expression to my talents."

One of those talents is clearly as a communicator. Since he entered the Knesset last year, he's assumed an increasing role as the party's spokesman, and has even brushed up his high-school English for interviews. "The press turns to me," he says, sitting in the Shas office on the fifth floor of the Knesset building. "They say it's easy for them to connect with me, that I give them clear, sharp answers."

In some ways, Benizri's romance with the press is reminiscent of the way the media used to treat Deri - until the bribery and corruption scandal broke over three years ago. On screen, Benizri is quietly confident and personable, a broad-shouldered man of above average height with a bushy black beard and gold-rimmed eyeglasses. In a dark pin-striped suit, his black hat tilted theatrically, he clearly enjoys the limelight. "They say my style talks to them," he confides. "It doesn't sound fanatical."

Despite his secular past, and views that seem more moderate on several issues than those of the Shas mainstream, Benizri remains an ultra-Orthodox politician. For 10 years, until he was elected to the Knesset and had to keep up with the news, there were no newspapers in his home. He and his wife Yaffah already have six children. And although he plays basketball with yeshivah friends once a week, he wouldn't join the Knesset team for an exhibition game against the touring Magic Johnson team recently, because the MKs' squad included a woman, the Likud's Naomi Blumenthal.

Such behavior is a world away from the lifestyle of Benizri's youth. In Tel Hanan, near Haifa, his Moroccan-born parents revered late Likud leader Menachem Begin; his father organized Likud parlor meetings at election time. As a young boy, Benizri handed out Likud stickers. "My father's still a Likudnik," he chuckles, "but he voted for me in the last elections."

Army service in an intelligence unit brought him to Mt. Hermon in 1980, at the age of 191/2. That was the turning point. "You spend hours in the guard post, and you don't have anything else to do but think," he says. "It was a time-out in the crazy rush of my life." He spent hours in discussion with his brother, who had just become religious. "The change was slow," he says. "It wasn't as if one day I went crazy."

After the army, Benizri enrolled in the Or Hahaim Yeshivah in Jerusalem, a leading venue for newly religious Sephardim, and met Rabbi Reuven Elbaz, a fiery orator and a leader in the movement to bring Sephardi youngsters back to religion. He soon became Elbaz's right-hand man and took a major role in running the yeshivah.

Only in the winter of 1992, when Shas was putting together its list for the June Knesset elections, did Benizri get into politics. Elbaz, long at odds with Deri over the meager funding his institutions were receiving, asked Benizri if he would be willing to become his representative in the Shas Knesset delegation. "We were standing in the courtyard of the yeshivah. It was snowing. Elbaz told me he was looking for a representative. I made some suggestions. But he said he wanted me." Elbaz pushed, Benizri was persuaded, and Elbaz's influence within Shas ensured Benizri became no. 6 on the Shas Knesset slate. Shas won six seats; Benizri had made his entry into politics.

His political future, it seems, is very much dependent on the power of Elbaz. He boasts that his patron is worth "at least two Knesset seats" to Shas. Other Shas sources do not belittle Elbaz's popularity, but say the real vote-getting power for the Sephardi party rests in Yosef and in Deri.

Friction between the two camps is evident. Benizri describes how he and Elbaz reacted when their candidate for a spot on the Jerusalem city council, Rabbi Yitzhak Angel, was placed far down the Shas slate. They made it clear to Jerusalem Shas local leader Nissim Ze'ev, and Deri, that they'd "form a new party" if Angel wasn't moved up the list. Angel became No. 3.

Another example: For many years, in the month before Rosh Hashanah, Elbaz accompanied Yosef on helicopter tours around the country. This year, Elbaz was not at the rabbi's side, and Benizri says he was not invited. Perhaps not by coincidence, Deri was not on the guest list for a major rally organized by Elbaz in Tel Aviv in June.

Many in Shas, it seems, are hoping that Benizri will turn out to be nothing more than a passing episode. But what does the party black sheep plan to do if his colleagues continue to sideline him?

"You're talking about the future," he says. "I cannot reveal my cards." Benizri politely requests that we go on to the next question, but then adds: "You can give your own analysis. I don't want to go overboard... or to stir things up any more."

Photo: My father's still a Likudnik,' chuckles ultra-Orthodox Knesset Member Benizri, but he voted for me in the last elections'

The Jerusalem Report
July 11, 1996
by Yossi Klein Halevi

Shortly before the May 29 elections, President Ezer Weizman told the press that he "loses sleep" over what he called the growing ignorance of secular Israeli youth about Judaism and Jewish history. That statement may provide a key insight into the subsequent success of the Knesset's three Orthodox parties, which together won an unprecedented 23 seats -

some of those thanks to the support of minimally observant Israelis.

Like Weizman, many Israelis are appalled at the increasing detachment of secular society from its Jewish roots - at least partly a result of the country's new prosperity and Americanization. In the past, secular Zionism offered a vibrant Jewish alternative to Orthodoxy. But with the decline of pioneering idealism, many now feel that religion is their only possible Jewish address.

It would be an exaggeration to suggest that Israel is on the verge of a spiritual transformation. Not just the Orthodox camp but the secular one is growing: The recent influx of over 600,000 Russian immigrants -

the most secularized immigrants in the nation's history - has substantially strengthened the large, influential minority that feels little or no sentimental attachment to religion. Culturally as well as politically, Israelis remain deeply divided.

Still, as the elections apparently reflect, something is happening - especially among Sephardim (main story, below), who form about half the country's Jewish population, and even among Ashkenazim ( see box, pages 16-17). And the election results are only the most visible expression of a phenomenon that is spreading throughout the country.

ILAN ELHARAR, A DEFENDER ON THE Betar Jerusalem soccer team and one of its leading players, doesn't want to be an athlete anymore. He doesn't care about the prestige or the money, doesn't want to drink beer and gossip with his secular teammates. Instead, he wants to put on a black hat, enroll in a yeshivah and serve God.

But it's not so easy to disengage from his former life. His wife, Yifat, likes observing Shabbat and has even agreed to send their two children to a kindergarten run by Shas, the ultra-Orthodox Sephardi party that Ilan has joined. But she fears what she considers Shas's stifling piety, the wig and "modest" clothes that Ilan hopes she'll one day wear. Nor is she pleased about the prospect of Ilan abandoning soccer. Ilan's spiritual counselor, Rabbi Uri Zohar - the comedian and film director who became the country's most famous newly Orthodox Jew in the 1970s - has advised him to continue playing,

to proceed slowly on the way to ultra-Orthodoxy. Zohar has even arranged for a prepaid Arab taxi to drive Elharar to Betar games which, like almost all professional soccer matches, are played on Shabbat.

Elharar, a tall, wiry 26-year-old who calls everyone neshamah , a Sephardi endearment meaning "soul," wears jeans and a T-shirt and a black skullcap. When he appears on the field, there are chants from the stands, "Here comes the rabbi!"

Elharar no longer spends most of his day training, and his game is suffering. Instead, he devotes his time to working for Shas, delivering food to poor people in his Mercedes before holidays, organizing a petition to move soccer matches to weekdays, traveling to remote towns and urg- ing working-class Sephardi audiences to stop longing for the empty successes of secular life and hunger instead for the enduring life of the soul. And during the recent elections, he convinced a group of leading soccer players, none of them Orthodox, to endorse Shas - which grew from six to 10 seats, becoming the Knesset's third-largest delegation.

THE SECULAR PRESS ATTRIBUTED Shas's astonishing success to the tens of thousands of amulets blessed by kabbalist Rabbi Yitzhak Kadourie, distributed in exchange for a written pledge to vote for the party. But the press mostly missed the far more significant and enduring cause behind Shas's popularity: the deep inroads that the return-to-Judaism movement has made among Sephardim. And secular culture heroes like Ilan Elharar who've found religion are no less crucial than Rabbi Kadourie to helping Shas win legitimacy among Sephardim who aren't strictly Orthodox.

Indeed, Shas is the only ultra-Orthodox party that has successfully courted non-ultra-Orthodox voters - who gave the party perhaps half its Knesset seats. Unlike Eastern European Jewry, the Sephardi Diaspora didn't shatter into battling secular and Orthodox camps; and religious sentiment remains strong even among non-observant Sephardim. Shas activists boast that no Sephardi is emotionally severed from Judaism, only distanced from religious practice. For that reason, Shas circles rarely use the term tshuvah, or penitence - which implies a drastic upheaval in one's beliefs and practices - preferring instead hit'hazkut , spiritual strengthening. "I always knew there was a creator of the universe," says Reuven Hamo, 35, a former art student from Jerusalem and now a yeshivah student, who voted for Shas. "I just needed strengthening."

Shas's electoral power base is an informal network of ultra-Orthodox institutions - some entirely independent of the party - that reach out to non-observant Sephardim. One of the most effective groups is Arakhim (Values), which conducts close to a hundred weekend seminars around the country every year. Each seminar draws up to 70 couples, who come via invitation from relatives or friends who've joined the return-to-religion movement, or else are drawn by volunteers soliciting door to door. The seminars offer an intensive series of lectures, ranging from personal testimonies of the newly religious to "scientific proof" of the divine nature of the Torah, based on computer "codes" that purportedly reveal hidden patterns in the text.

One especially popular lecturer is Uri Zohar: Though himself Ashkenazi, Zohar tells his mostly Sephardi audiences that they - and not the "assimilationist Ashkenazim" - are the true Jews, and urges them to return to the ways of their fathers. Zohar has recently begun lecturing in pubs, renting the premises for an evening and drawing large, curious crowds. The choice of venue itself conveys a message: The newly Orthodox are storming secular bastions.

The "capital" of the Sephardi revivalist movement is the Or Hahayim (Light of Life) yeshivah, located in Jerusalem's impoverished Bukharan Quarter. The yeshivah has produced thousands of ultra-Orthodox activists, including leading Shas Knesset Member Shlomo Benizri. Every Tuesday night, hundreds of Sephardi men - yeshivah students in ultra-Orthodox black, secular teenagers with black velvet skullcaps precariously pinned to stylized gelled hair - fill the benches of Or Hahayim's massive, marble-lined study hall, brightly lit by brass chandeliers.

They come to hear an hour-and-a-half inspirational talk from the yeshivah's head, Rabbi Reuven Elbaz. Gray-bearded and wearing a black fedora, Elbaz sits before a microphone, Torah ark just behind him, and delivers his severe message in a soft, high voice. He rarely stops smiling, even when discussing death, his favorite topic. He is a master entertainer, using Hebrew slang and staging imaginary debates with secular skeptics, whose voices he mimics.

He says: "When a person reaches the end of his life, he asks himself, Is this it? How did 80 years go by so fast?' A person thinks, I'm young, I'm strong like iron, nothing can happen to me.' But then God presses a button, and you're gone."

"And connections won't help!" calls out a middle-aged man. "Your brother or your cousin can't help you then."

Elbaz smiles in encouragement. "A person spends his time worrying - about money, terrorists, the future. What future? Do you even know if you'll be here tomorrow? An evil person says, We're going to die, so why bother doing mitzvot?' But a righteous man says, I have to hurry and do another mitzvah - because I don't know how much time I have left."

ALONG WITH THE ADULT YESHIVOT, Shas's other power base is at the opposite end of the educational spectrum: its network of youth clubs and elementary schools.

The Shas-sponsored El Hama'ayan (To the Wellsprings) runs after-school clubs for what organizers estimate as anywhere between 20,000 and 30,000 children - and the very vagueness of the numbers attests to the vitality of the movement, whose ranks are constantly expanding. The clubs, which usually meet in synagogues or basement bomb shelters, offer a combination of Torah classes, sports and games. Many of those who attend are sent by non-Orthodox parents, pleased to provide their children with an alternative to the streets.

Another 20,000 students - many likewise from non-Orthodox homes - are enrolled in Shas's network of kindergartens and elementary schools. The Tiferet Hahayim (Beauty of Life) elementary school in the working-class, mostly Sephardi town of Beit Shemesh, midway between Jerusalem and Tel Aviv, is located in a building that once housed a secular school. The halls are covered with bright murals of nature scenes, whose purpose is devotional. One painting of a palm tree, for example, is accompanied by the words from the Psalms, "A righteous man will blossom like the palm"; pasted onto the trunk is a photo of Shas's mentor, former chief rabbi Ovadiah Yosef.

Among the school's 400 students are boys with sidelocks, as well as boys with longish hair wearing shorts and sandals. That heterogeneity is rare among Ashkenazim, whose ultra-Orthodox have segregated themselves from secularists.

In one 6th-grade class, the teacher, Rabbi Shlomo Hasid, tells me proudly how his students have influenced their parents to become more devout; some have even convinced them to discard their television sets. "But everything is done here with love, not force," he adds.

Turning to his students, he asks, "Is there religious coercion here?"

"No!" they shout in unison.

"What do you want to be?"

"Torah scholars!"

"And why do you love learning Torah?"

"Because it strengthens a person!"

Many non-ultra-Orthodox families are attracted to the Shas network because they fear the secular alternative. Children in the Shas schools don't curse as they do in secular schools, say parents. And, they add, Shas teaches children to respect their elders, even to kiss their hands, like Sephardi children used to do.

Another key incentive is financial: Shas schools charge only 100 shekels a month and go until 4 p.m. - usually cheaper than the various fees charged by supposedly free public schools and running three hours longer. Transportation is free; many schools offer free hot lunches. Families who can't afford even the minimal tuition are fully subsidized. (Shas's educational programs, which organizers say are in constant deficit, are partly funded by the Education Ministry and partly by wealthy Israeli Sephardim.)

Shas community organizers function as surrogate social workers, mediating family disputes and finding jobs for the unemployed. "Many will turn to me rather than to a social worker, because they know they'll get a warmer response," says Rabbi Avraham Toledano, a tall, ascetic-looking young man who directs Shas's two schools in Beit Shemesh, as well as the town's 10 El Hama'ayan afternoon clubs. The results of Toledano's social work and educational outreach emerged on election day: Shas received 2,500 votes in Beit Shemesh, more than double the votes it won there in the 1992 national election.

When Shas first entered the Knesset in 1984, it resembled an ethnic protest movement more than a mainstream political party. Shas embodied the rage Sephardim felt at having been culturally "robbed" by secular Ashkenazi society - of being transformed from intact, traditionalist communities into the Israeli lower class. The ironic tragedy of the Sephardim was that, in fulfilling their religious dream of a return to Zion, they experienced their first religious breakdown. Instead of Torah scholars, Shas leaders lamented, we now produce criminals.

These days, Shas spokesmen no longer sound aggrieved but triumphant. "If things continue as they're going, we will be the largest party in Israel," says Shimon Maloul, who organizes Shas's mass rallies, often held in sports stadiums.

THAT SENSE OF IMMINENT VICtory pervades the tiny studio of Kol Ha'emet (the Voice of Truth) a Shas-affiliated pirate radio station that broadcasts from a rundown office building in a working-class Jerusalem neighborhood. The station, whose goal is bringing Jews back to Judaism and which claims tens of thousands of listeners across the country, has an arrangement with sympathetic Jerusalem taxi drivers, who ferry secular teenagers emerging from late-night pubs into the studio. Not through coercion, stress radio organizers; the drivers simply offer teenagers a chance to speak about the meaning of life with a DJ, live on the air.

The results are displayed in the studio. Hanging from the ceiling are plastic bags with shorn hair - pony tails that teenage boys were persuaded by the charismatic DJs to cut. (In one case, a barber listening to a broadcast appeared at the station at 2 a.m. and cut a boy's pony tail for free.) Dangling from a wall is a row of inter-linked earrings, which secular boys have likewise removed in remorse. And then there is the pride of the station: a torn T-shirt printed with the word "Meretz," the ultra-secular party, which a teenager took off and ripped after an all-night discussion at the station.

Late one night, a half-dozen bearded, chain-smoking men sit at open mikes. The evening's discussion is devoted to urging listeners to support a petition campaign begun by Ilan Elharar to move Shabbat soccer games to weekdays. The men joke and laugh loudly and call each other neshamah, soul. The jovial atmosphere is itself a key to Shas's ability to reach out to the non-Orthodox, offering the promise of vitality and joy.

The DJ, Ya'akov Ajami - who, along with the ultra-Orthodox uniform, still wears the round, gold-rimmed "Meretz- style" glasses of his secular past - phones a local restaurateur and famous Betar Jerusalem fan known as "Little Zion," and asks him to display the soccer petition in his restaurant. Little Zion is happy to oblige: "It bothers me that I have to break Shabbat to go to the games. I don't see the family on Shabbat, I don't eat hamin (Sephardi cholent, a traditional Shabbat food)."

"We don't want to move the games by coercion," says Ajami. "Only through the people's choice."

Shas organizer Shimon Maloul, sitting across from Ajami, interrupts: "Zion, why don't you give (former Jerusalem Betar superstar) Uri Malmilian a call and ask him to phone us?"

A few minutes later, the phone rings: Uri Malmilian. "Uri, neshamah , we need help to reschedule the Shabbat games."

"Count me in," says Malmilian.

Everyone in the studio applauds.

"Look how the return-to-religion movement is growing, Uri," says one of the men in the studio. "The religious parties are getting bigger and bigger."

"That's because the Orthodox have so many children," says Malmilian.

Everyone laughs.

"Do you know why we have so many children?" asks Ajami. "Because we stay home on Shabbat instead of going to soccer games!"


Little Zion phones back. "Do you put on tefillin, Zion?" asks a big bearded man who wears tzitzit, ritual fringes, over a black T-shirt, and who has dropped into the studio and taken a mike.

"Every day," says Little Zion.


"Ashrekha," says Ajami. "Be blessed."

"Zion," says Maloul, "why don't you go a step further and observe Shabbat?"

"Shabbat is hard," says Zion.

"All right," says Maloul, laughing. "One step at a time."

Photo: With reporting by Daniel Chalfen SOCCER OR SABBATH?: Elharar (third from left, above, with Shas leaders; and in action, left) has a growing dilemma SHAS TAKEOVER: This Orthodox elementary school in Beit Shemesh used to be a secular institution

The Jerusalem Report
April 12, 1999
by Peter Hirschberg

In Shas's Israel, Aryeh Deri is a hero, not a sinner. The Orthodox, Sephardi judge who convicted him is a court Jew. And the decadent Ashkenazi ruling _lite will eventually be swept aside by the honest, God-fearing masses.

Peter Hirschberg

ABOUT 150 MEN SIT jammed together on thinly-padded benches in Jerusalem's Moussaief Synagogue, their eyes fixed on a TV screen to the right of the blue-curtained ark. The all-male crowd has gathered to hear the weekly post-Sabbath sermon by Rabbi Ovadiah Yosef, predominant rabbi of the ultra-Orthodox Sephardi world and spiritual head of the Shas party. Speaking in the Yazdim Synagogue, just a few blocks away in the capital's Bukharan neighborhood, Yosef's address is broadcast by satellite to synagogues around the country, and around the world, from London to Casablanca.

Three nights after the conviction of party political chief Aryeh Deri for corruption, the crowd is awaiting Yosef's verdict on the verdict of the Jerusalem District Court. "He's going to cancel the judges' ruling," whispers one excited spectator.

Now, on the screen, the crowd at Yazdim is rising to its feet, chanting ecstatically, "Aryeh, King of Israel." Deri walks into the shot, smiling broadly, and takes a seat next to Yosef, clearly revelling in the outpouring of support. In Ovadiah Yosef's court, Deri is not a criminal but the exalted leader of the Sephardi religious revolution, responsible for a huge network of synagogues, kindergartens and yeshivot. Rabbi Reuven Elbaz, one of Shas's great evangelists, takes the mike, and the crowd settles down. For half an hour, his voice deep and rasping, Elbaz examines the District Court ruling, detailing with bitter irony where the judges erred. Their main fault: Relying on the testimony of a single witness, a state witness at that, whereas "Jewish law demands two witnesses."

Finally, Elbaz reaches the climax of his peroration. "Our teacher and master," he declares, his booming voice overpowering the speaker on the Moussaief synagogue TV, "has asked me to explain that he has thoroughly investigated the whole case. And he has come to the conclusion that everyone, God willing, will reach: According to Jewish law, Rabbi Aryeh Deri is innocent. Innocent! INNOCENT!" The crowd is on its feet again, deliriously singing: "Do not fear O Israel, do not fear, for are you not a lion (aryeh) cub? If a lion roars, who will not fear?"

The three District Court judges, of course, saw matters differently, convicting Deri of bribery, fraud and breach of trust. Because of his clout - Deri has made and unmade governments over the past decade - their verdict, which he is appealing, is sure to have far-reaching political implications. But the social impact may be even greater, widening the ethnic chasm that divides Israel. In the country's mainstream Ashkenazi bastions, the verdict is generally seen as a victory for the rule of law and further proof of corruption in ultra-Orthodox political circles. But among committed Shas followers in poor Sephardi towns and neighborhoods, it's confirmation that Deri is the victim of an Ashkenazi witchhunt. Interpreted largely according to ethnic origin, Deri's trial is therefore, to some extent, the Israeli equivalent to O.J. Simpson's.

Around Shas strongholds in Jerusalem, posters blare: "Aryeh Deri: The Paschal Sacrifice." To many Sephardim who feel locked out of mainstream Israel, this wasn't one man's trial. It is about ethnic and religious discrimination - about how the Ashkenazi establishment took out a contract on the young, ultra-Orthodox Sephardi who dared to challenge them. No Justice For The Sephardim

It's the day of judgment, minutes before the verdict. "The messiah will burn this building down," declares an ultra-Orthodox woman who has somehow slipped through the security cordon, thrown up around the District Court in East Jerusalem by police fearful of violence in the event of a conviction. Arabs peer out their shop doors at the baton-wielding Border Policemen, the rooftop lookouts, the barricades, the helicopters above. For once, the cops have nothing to do with them.

Dozens of Shas supporters have gathered in clusters, kept about 300 yards away from the building by police, ears glued to transistor radios, waiting for the live broadcast. Judge Ya'akov Tzemah begins to read from the 917-page judgment: Guilty. Guilty. Guilty. Tears roll down the cheeks of a middle-aged man. "Aryeh, Aryeh, Aryeh," the cry goes up. "They've convicted all the Sephardim," shouts a youngster.

Few wait for the rest of the judgment, in which Tzemah also paints Deri as a determined obstructor of justice. They've heard all they need to - got more proof that, in Israel, a Sephardi can't expect a fair trial. "When the judges see one of us before them, they have to cut us down," somebody fumes. "They'll try to find every little thing against us, then give us the heaviest sentence possible."

That Tzemah is himself both Sephardi and Orthodox means only that he has gone over to "the other side," an Uncle Tom cynically used by the establishment. "He's their court Jew," mutters one activist.

The sense of judicial persecution doesn't stop here, among the yeshivah-educated hard-core of Shas. It extends outward, to the masses of traditional-leaning Sephardim who helped give Shas 10 Knesset seats in the last election, to the no-exit lower-class towns where Sephardi immigrants were dumped two generations back. "I don't trust the courts," says Moroccan-born Ya'akov Cohen, a Town Hall employee in Ofakim in the Negev. Unlike the ultra-Orthodox pols he votes for, Cohen dresses in jeans and a black denim jacket. "They're all Ashkenazim," says Cohen, who arrived in Israel from Rabat in 1963. "Even if you're wearing a suit and tie, the minute they hear a (Moroccan) name like Buzaglo, you're finished. If Deri was Ashkenazi, he'd have gotten off long ago." Shas supporters have a store of "evidence" to confirm that Deri was singled out. Why, they ask, was only he charged in the 1997 Bar-On affair, an influence-peddling scandal, while the prosecution decided not to indict Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and other senior government figures involved? And isn't it remarkable that the recent state comptroller's report on the Tze'elim military training accident cleared Labor leader and ex-army chief Ehud Barak, who had reportedly abandoned the wounded. "The Ashkenazi got off," says a Shas activist. "Aryeh was convicted." Beware the Ashkenazi Elite Shmuel Amial is a member of the Shas _lite - an apparatchik who has ridden the Shas revolution to a job as deputy director-general of the Postal Authority. It's a long way from the three rooms in the Shmuel Hanavi neighborhood where he lived with his Iranian-born father - who had two wives and cleaned offices at Jerusalem's City Hall - and his 19 brothers and sisters.

For Amial, the Deri trial is persecution, plain and simple: "There's never been a case like this. Nine years. Dozens of investigators. Tens of millions of shekels. They want to show the public that Shas is headed by thieves. They're after him because he's ultra-Orthodox, Sephardi, successful. If there hadn't been a trial, Deri could have been the finance minister."

The same theme animates a crowd of teenagers who gather one night in the Bukharan quarter to vent their frustration. They shove two plastic garbage bins into the street and set them alight. To their disappointment, the police stay away. "The media, the secular left, the legal system, the Ashkenazim," says Motti, a young man watching from the side, "they've all hounded Deri. They treated us like second-class citizens. Then Deri arrived - and Rabbi Ovadiah, of course - and built up the yeshivah world, boosted the return to religion, brought a spiritual revolution."

Even if Deri did dip his hands into the public coffers, his admirers insist he did no worse than others before him, and acted for a sacred cause - to build synagogues, mikvahs, schools. They ignore the finding that he took $ 155,000 for his own housing and travel. "Other politicians took big money, banknotes, which don't make a noise," says a Shas supporter. "Deri's problem is that he took the coins. They rattle." Breaking Free

It's midnight. Ashkenazi and Sephardi ultra-Orthodox youngsters mill around on Jerusalem's Bar-Ilan Street. "We all support Deri," announces one of the Ashkenazim, a self-assured hasid with a shaven head and wispy sidelocks. "The secularists are out to get him. It's us versus them."

"You see," grins David, a 17-year-old Shas supporter who wears his fedora tipped rakishly forward, "they hate the secularists more than they hate Sephardim."

Despite the smile, David isn't joking. Shas was born out of a sense of ethnic discrimination within the ultra-Orthodox world, not just the secular one. Faced with the crisis of immigration, many of the party leaders to-be, like Deri himself, found refuge from their poor, crime-stricken neighborhoods - and from secular Israel's disdain for religion - in anti-Zionist Ashkenazi yeshivot. Leaving the more lenient religion of North African Jewry, they entered a world in which the defining experience was the religious-secular divide of Eastern Europe. The result was a strange hybrid: The ultra-Orthodox Sephardi. But they were never allowed to feel they'd found a home. The Ashkenazim viewed Sephardi rabbis as second-rate; Ashkenazim never married Sephardim; the Ashkenazi ultra-Orthodox party Agudat Yisrael drew votes from Sephardim but never gave them leadership roles.

When Binyamin Malkah lived in two rooms with his parents, grandparents and 10 siblings, Agudat Yisrael did nothing to help him. Last November, the Moroccan-born Malkah got his revenge - a word he prefers not to use - when, for the first time, Shas ran on a separate ticket from Agudah, and won three seats, more than any other party, on the Ofakim town council.

Shas people weren't always so independent. When Shas - (the name derives from "Sephardim Shomrei Torah," Sephardi Torah Guardians) - was born in the early 80s, the party won the blessing of Rabbi Eliezer Schach, a leader of the Ashkenazi ultra-Orthodox yeshivah world. Two epiphanies led to divorce. In June 1992, days before national elections, the aging rabbi declared that Sephardim were not ready "to take positions of leadership." Insulted Sephardi voters - especially traditional-leaning but non-Orthodox ones who respected Rabbi Yosef but felt little for Schach - rallied around Shas, allowing it to maintain its six Knesset members. Then, weeks later, Schach, who'd described Labor as "pork-eating idolaters," tried to prevent Shas from joining Yitzhak Rabin's moderate government. Yosef defied him. Yosef, Deri and Shas had finally shaken off their Ashkenazi patrons. Children of the Revolution

Ofakim is fertile Shas terrain - an unemployment-blighted town of 26,000, populated by the Sephardi underclass and immigrants from the former Soviet republics. Like similar towns in the Negev and Galilee, it makes the news only when jobless figures are published, or once every four years when the candidates from the big parties cruise in for a few hours.

That's not how Shas works. Its activists live here, and have tapped the sense of social and cultural dislocation wrought by years of governmental neglect. Where the state welfare system has broken down, Shas has stepped in, taking addicts off the streets and placing them in yeshivah, helping prostitutes rebuild their lives. The floor of Binyamin Malkah's battered car is covered in bread crumbs, from the weekly food parcels he helps deliver to 200 families. The crisis experienced by Sephardi Jews is not just economic. It dates back to the state's early years when the Ashkenazi leadership, attempting to fashion a new, secular Jewish identity, failed to recognize the religious traditions and values of the new arrivals from Middle Eastern countries. Family structures were shaken; alienation set in. For many Sephardim, the anger has endured. So has the sense that, even after 50 years, they are stuck on the margins, outsiders. "I'm not an Israeli," said a devastated Shas supporter after the Deri verdict. "I'm a Sephardi Jew. Israeli is Ashkenazi."

Unlike previous ethnic-based parties, Shas has not just fed off resentment. It has offered the non-Orthodox Sephardi proletariat a mixture of faith, ethnic pride and social sensitivity. And it has used its political clout to direct state funds into a vibrant educational network, the real source of its power. In Ofakim alone, Shas runs five day-care centers; five kindergartens; a girl's school; talmudei torah, or elementary schools, with 300 students. Many of these offer meals and long school days - a highly attractive proposition for working mothers. Nationwide, Shas schools have tripled in size in the last six years. Yehudah Ifergan is principal of Ofakim's fast-growing Shas-linked girls school. A loud, effusive man, who laughs from the depths of his ample belly, Ifergan proudly shows visitors around his school - a cluster of drab, prefab structures and an old bus that's used as a storeroom - describing its "miraculous" flourishing. Permanent, concrete facilities are under construction on an adjacent lot. The miracle-worker, of course, is Aryeh Deri. "He helped secure our initial funding. If that's what he's been judged on, then I'm his friend. If it wasn't for him, these girls wouldn't have anywhere to learn. Everyone ignored us. The Education Ministry laughed at us. Deri did what had to be done. He is a noble man. Our rabbis say there hasn't been one like him for generations."

Nearby, in one of the low-ceilinged classes of a talmud torah, pictures of Sephardi sages - including Yosef - are pasted on the walls, along with the letters of the Hebrew alphabet. The bomb-shelter is used as a computer room - because of lack of space and to ensure the hardware doesn't disappear in the frequent break-ins. The children, many of them in hand-me-downs - sweaters a size too big, pants rolled up at the ankle - study mainly religious subjects, but also some math and history. "Not normal history," notes Rabbi Reuven Pilo, the principal. "Not the French Revolution."

Jewish history? "Yes, from Abraham on."

The expulsion from Spain? "Yes, and the Holocaust. The children have a lot of questions about the Holocaust. Just yesterday one came to ask me about a word he couldn't read. It was Birkenau."

What about civics? "No. We teach children things that are relevant to them."

Asked on TV about the Deri verdict, a boy from a Shas school elsewhere in the country responded that, "Rabbi Ovadiah says he is innocent. And that's clear proof." That answer begs the question: What long-term price will Israeli democracy pay for deals cut by governments this past decade, taking political support from Shas in return for allowing it to build an educational empire that is state-funded but not state-supervised, and which encourages allegiance to rabbis over the state and its laws?

And there's a second question: What future is Shas opening to its children? Its teachers say they are expanding the study of math and computers, but the revolution so far has been more reactionary than progressive. Instead of providing young people with the tools needed to survive in modern society, it has given them the tools for religious study. And in the process it has entrenched Sephardi dependence on state charity. This, of course, means that the sense of persecution will remain - ensuring continued fertile ground for Shas. Says Daniel Ben-Simon, author of "The Other Israel," a book that charts how Netanyahu put together a coalition of marginalized groups to win the 1996 elections: "Without the feelings of persecution and deprivation, Shas simply wouldn't exist."

The Watershed

Outside the District Court, emerging from the shock of hearing the verdict, the Shas supporters begin dancing, more in protest than in joy. A teenager waves an amended Israeli flag, its Star of David replaced with the words, "Deri, The Nation Is With You." Asked about the alteration, he barks defiantly, "This is our flag."

What does he mean? That Shas represents the future of the State of Israel? Or that, by erasing its symbol, he and his colleagues are bidding farewell to the state? It's a dilemma Shas leaders have always wrestled with. They grew up in the anti-Zionist Ashkenazi yeshivahs. But their soft-core followers are proud of the Zionist state. So Shas often broadcasts dual messages. Unlike Agudah, it has taken cabinet positions. Yet, like the Ashkenazi ultra-Orthodox, its hardcore doesn't serve in the army. And while Yosef was once Israel's Sephardi Chief Rabbi, he has increasingly attacked the legal system, recently telling his adherents not to appear in the courts. The Deri verdict is a watershed. "The conviction will push the hard-core further away from the state," predicts Ben-Simon. "That is the direction that (Ovadiah's son) David Yosef wants to take - toward greater separatism and ultra-Orthodoxy. Deri is pushing the more moderate line, because he understands that Shas stands to lose its soft-core supporters."

At Eitan Yisraeli's felafel stand in Ofakim, many of the patrons seem to belong to this soft-core - working-class Shas supporters, but not blind believers in Deri or Yosef. Eitan, who wears a blue and white crocheted yarmulke, says that he sees Yosef as "a wise man... It doesn't mean I'll do everything he says."

His brother Shmuel, bare-headed, is vacillating between Likud and Shas, and is emphatic that he wasn't on trial with Deri. "I trust the legal system," he says. "It's not really OK what they've done to him, but it's not a personal blow. He's not my uncle ... I won't accept violent demonstrations, because that'll mean they will be going up against the police, and the police are Jews." It's voters like Shmuel who make Deri nervous - the 60 percent of the party's support who respect Yosef, but also believe in the state and its institutions. It was with these people in mind that Deri pleaded with his hard-core admirers not to react violently to the verdict. An explosion could send the soft-core scurrying to the Likud or the National Religious Party. "The people who live in the outlying towns," says Ben-Simon, "believe in the rule of law. If Shas presents matters as, 'The state versus Deri,' it won't wash with them. They're proud of being Israeli. Shas gives them self-pride, but it's not an alternative to the state."

One of the few pictures in the living room of the Dror family, in Jerusalem's Katamon neighborhood, is that of Rabbi Yitzhak Kadourie, a venerable Moroccan-born kabbalist who has proved a major Shas vote-winner. Avivah Dror got the picture from Shas activists who visited her before the 1996 elections - the first time she voted for the party. Until then she'd voted Likud. "They brought us an amulet from Rabbi Kadourie as well, and gave us a blessing," she says, explaining her switch. And she's voting Shas again this time.

Her husband, Eyal, is sticking with the Likud. "Deri's a thief," announces Eyal, a fast-talking cab driver. "He has to pay the price. But don't think that other politicians haven't stolen much more."

"I like Shas," says Yael Katzav, who is visiting the Drors and has lived in the area since she was six. Even though she voted Likud last time, Katzav, who wears a sweatshirt and pants and looks far from Orthodox, let alone ultra, feels deeply sympathetic toward Shas. "We need a little religion," she muses. "The media wanted to bring Deri down. They wanted to destroy him. We'll pick him up. The Ashkenazim don't like the Sephardim."

"Enough of this ethnic stuff," cuts in a friend of Eyal's, East European in origin, who has also dropped by. "Eyal and I are best friends. It makes no difference."

"There is discrimination, always will be," insists Katzav. "I like Deri. He helped people in the neighborhood." She pauses, torn, then adds, "But I believe the judges."

Deri appears on the TV in the corner of the living room. Katzav stares sadly at the screen, tears welling up in her eyes. "I so much wanted him to be acquitted."

At 11:17 AM, Blogger jewishwhistleblower said...

May. 29, 2005 19:49
A-G to charge Shas MK Benizri for fraud, bribery

MK Shlomo Benizri (Shas) and his spiritual patron, Rabbi Reuven Elbaz will stand trial on charges of bribery, fraud and breach of trust for their involvement with contractor Moshe Sela, Attorney General Menahem Mazuz decided on Sunday.

Before the indictment is officially filed, Benizri has the option of being subject to a hearing with Mazuz before the attorney general makes his final decision on whether to press charges, Army Radio reported. But sources in the Justice Ministry presumed that this would not affect the outcome of the decision as in the past Benizri has thoroughly refused to cooperate with investigators and he likely wouldn't take advantage of the offer.

About a year ago the police National Fraud Squad recommended indicting Benizri after investigations uncovered evidence that Benizri supplied Sela with information on the arrival of foreign workers in exchange for various benefits.

Police believed Sela supplied Benizri and his family with two foreign workers and also funneled money to him by making donations to nonprofit organizations headed by his spiritual patron Elbaz.

The allegations against Benizri picked up speed after Sela turned state's witness, saying he refused to pay him back the hundreds of thousands of shekels he is suspected of having received as a bribe.

Benizri's encounter with the law is not the first time that a Shas MK has been indicted or served time in jail. Former Shas leader Aryeh Deri spent close to two years in jail on corruption charges. Current MK Yair Peretz was indicted half a year ago for allegedly receiving a salary raise after acquiring a fraudulent degree from the University of Latvia, but has yet to stand trial since his immunity has not been lifted.


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