Israel’s Supreme Court refuses to appoint a significant friend of Netanyahu

Because of a recent tax fraud conviction and suspended sentence, Israel’s Supreme Court has determined that a significant member of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s coalition cannot hold the position of minister.

The appointment of Aryeh Deri, the head of the ultra-Orthodox Shas party, was deemed by the judges to be “very irrational.”

The justice minister referred to the decision as ludicrous. Shas referred to it as “political.”

The choice intensifies a conflict between the new government and the entire legal system that was already unprecedented.

The administration, which is the most right-wing in Israel’s history, has drafted a bill that, if passed into law, would give legislators more control over judicial nominations and the ability to veto Supreme Court decisions.

After the head of the Supreme Court warned that the planned reforms would inflict a “fatal blow” to Israel’s democratic character, tens of thousands of Israelis demonstrated against them in Tel Aviv on Saturday.

Currently facing allegations of bribery, fraud, and breach of trust—charges he denies—Mr. Netanyahu rejected the criticism.

Thousands of Israelis protest legal reforms in Tel Aviv, according to the media caption.

Before the administration assumed power last month, lawmakers from his coalition amended the law to permit someone who had just been convicted of a felony to hold the position of minister if their prison term was suspended.

Mr. Deri was supposed to serve as the interior minister and the health minister, according to Mr. Netanyahu and his allies, but 10 of the Supreme Court’s 11 justices voted in favor of legal petitions opposing his appointment.

According to a statement of their decision, “the majority of the judges have found that this appointment is exceedingly inappropriate and, as a result, the prime minister must remove Deri from office.”

Esther Hayut, president of the Supreme Court, was quoted by the Israeli newspaper Haaretz as saying that the prime minister had no right to disregard Mr. Deri’s “collection of significant corruption offenses.”

She continued, saying it “damages the image and credibility of the country’s legal system and breaches norms of ethical behavior and legality” to have him in charge of two crucial ministries.

In 1999, Mr. Deri received a three-year prison term after being found guilty of accepting bribes, engaging in fraud, and betraying trust while serving as the interior minister. After serving 22 months, he was freed, and he rejoined the legislature in 2013.

A judge accepted a plea agreement in which Mr. Deri acknowledged to tax fraud in January of last year. He was fined $53,300 (£43,200) and given a one-year imprisonment with probation.

As a result of his resignation as an MP, the court was unable to determine whether his offense contained “moral turpitude,” which would have prevented him from seeking office for seven years.

When Shas gained 11 seats in the legislature in November and decided to form a coalition with Mr. Netanyahu’s right-wing Likud party, the ultra-Orthodox United Torah Judaism party, and the far-right Religious Zionism alliance, Mr. Deri was re-elected.

At a cabinet meeting in Jerusalem on January 15, 2023, Aryeh Deri is seated next to Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu (second from right, second from left).
picture caption
The coalition partners of Benjamin Netanyahu pledged to take “whatever legal action” to “address the injustice.”
The Supreme Court’s decision was denounced by Shas as “political,” “very irrational,” and “unprecedented,” and the organization warned that it “tossed away the voice and vote of 400,000 Shas voters.” The party had previously asserted that their leader must be present for the government to convene.

The finding was a “blatant injustice,” according to Justice Minister Yariv Levin, a Likud member, who also expressed sadness that the court “failed to recognize the people’s desire, the prime minister’s judgment, and the Knesset’s decision that indicated trust in the current government.”

The coalition’s party leaders pledged in a joint statement to take “whatever legal action open to us, without delay, to redress the unfairness and the harm that has been caused to the democratic choice and the sovereignty of the people,” as well as to act in a fair and expedient manner.

If Mr. Deri was not sacked, the opposition leader, Yair Lapid, warned them that the government would be breaching the law and running the prospect of a “unprecedented constitutional crisis.”

“An illegal government is one that disregards the law. It can no longer expect that people obey the law, “the former prime minister and leader of the centrist Yesh Atid party remarked.

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