JERUSALEM (Jul. 29)
Embattled Interior Minister Arye Deri got some welcome support Monday from mayors of development towns, who denounced his alleged “trial by press.”
The charge also had ethnic overtones.
One of the mayors, David Bouskilla of the Negev town of S’derot, likened Deri to Capt. Alfred Dreyfus, a French army officer of Jewish origin falsely accused of treason by anti-Semitic conspirators in the late 19th century.
“It is not a far-fetched comparison, only this is happening in the Jewish state,” Bouskilla said.
He referred to the yearlong police investigation of Deri, widely reported by the Israeli news media. The 31-year-old minister, the youngest Cabinet member, is suspected of financial improprieties but has yet to be formally charged.
The case made new headlines last week when State Comptroller Miriam Ben-Porat, in her latest report, excoriated the Interior Ministry for handing out huge sums of government money to religious institutions affiliated with Deri’s Orthodox Shas party.
The report brought a flood of demands that Deri resign. A measure was introduced in the Knesset that would require an official under investigation to step down, pending completion of the investigation.
Adding to Deri’s troubles was the unexpected announcement by the director general of the Interior Ministry, Dov Kehat, that he is resigning, effective in October.
Kehat, a Deri appointee, was twice cited by name in the comptroller’s report. The report blasted the system whereby the Interior Ministry parcels out public funds to favored institutions by way of local authorities that depend on the ministry for their own subsidies.
But many heads of local authorities, including Jerusalem Mayor Teddy Kollek and Eli Landau, mayor of Herzliya, defended Deri. They noted that he did not invent the system of political handouts.
According to Landau, the system is common to other ministries which have not abandoned it even as Deri is being publicly pilloried.
Some of the development-town mayors contended Monday that the media treatment of Deri “smacked of ethnic bias.”
Like Deri himself, most of the mayors are of Moroccan origin and deeply suspicious of the news media, which are controlled largely by Ashkenazic Jews.
“The press will not judge him. He deserves a fair trial in a court of law,” declared Yossi Ellul, mayor of Hatzor, an immigrant town in Galilee.