JERUSALEM, July 12 (JTA) — Charges of anti-Sephardi discrimination were rampant in the crowd that gathered outside the Supreme Court building on Wednesday.
The court upheld a lower court’s bribery conviction of Aryeh Deri, former political leader of the fervently Orthodox Shas Party, but reduced his jail sentence from four years to three.
Shas supporters initially misunderstood the revision of the lower court’s verdict for a full acquittal, and broke out with cheers and shofar-blowing.
This quickly changed into expressions of shock and disbelief as the actual decision became clear.
Deri, who propelled Shas to become a powerful political force representing mostly Sephardi Jews, avoided suggesting that the court decision was anti-Sephardi — a claim he has made in the past.
But activists at the courthouse demonstrated no such restraint.
Calls of “Weizman” were heard in the crowd, as activists drew parallels to prosecutors’ decision not to press charges against Ezer Weizman, who resigned as president this week, over cash gifts he accepted from a millionaire friend while serving as a Knesset member and Cabinet minister.
“The only difference is that Weizman is an Ashkenazi” Jew, one activist shouted at the microphones of the radio and television journalists at the crowded court building.
Deri, a former Cabinet minister is to begin serving his sentence Aug. 13.
He said that the judges’ decision was “God’s will,” and that he would go to jail “happily.” But he added that he thought the justices had “erred,” and he did not understand how they drew their conclusions.
The high court found that Deri was guilty of accepting bribes during the late 1980s and early 1990s, when he served as director general and later as head of the Interior Ministry.
But in what commentators called a “technical” revision of the earlier ruling by the Jerusalem District Court, the high court said Deri was guilty of accepting $95,000 in bribes, not $155,000.
The justices also upheld the lower court’s decision preventing Deri from serving as a Cabinet minister until 10 years after he leaves jail.
Following Wednesday’s ruling, Shas’ spiritual leader, Rabbi Ovadia Yosef, declared that Deri was innocent according to Torah law, and that the Supreme Court judges were “evil.”
Eli Yishai, who took over the political leadership of Shas after Deri was forced to resign, called the ruling “difficult and painful.”