Netanyahu coalition braces for Supreme Court decision on Shas leader Aryeh Deri

Shas leader Aryeh Deri was convicted of tax offenses last year but still serves as Minister of Health and Interior.

Netanyahu’s government and Shas, one of its key factions, have begun discussions regarding the future of the party’s leader, Aryeh Deri, who may be disqualified from being appointed minister if the petitions submitted against him to the Supreme Court are accepted. The Supreme Court is expected to deliver its decision in the coming days.

Shas insists on keeping the Interior and Health Ministries that Aryeh Deri currently holds in the hands of the party. It is possible that other ministers from the party will take over those positions or that Deri’s Deputy in both ministries will take over, despite the Supreme Court having already rejected such an appointment in the past.

The coalition is preparing for the day after Aryeh Deri’s disqualification, with one of the options being floated is the appointment of Deri as an Alternate Prime Minister, allowing him to serve in the government without the possibility of legal intervention. However, if the Supreme Court decides does not rule out the appointment, they will likely pass the decision to the current Chair of the Central Election Commission, Judge Noam Solberg

After the approval of so-called “Deri Law,” intended to qualify his appointment, several petitions were submitted to the Supreme Court against the amendment to the Government Basic Law. This Basic Law prevents the defamation of an elected official with a suspended sentence and stipulates that defamation will only apply in the case of actual imprisonment. Deri was convicted last year on tax offenses as part of a plea deal and received a suspended sentence.

Last Thursday, the Supreme Court, with an expanded panel of 11 judges, held a hearing on the petitions filed against the legality of the appointment of Deri to a minister in the government. During the six-hour long hearing the judges rejected some of the arguments of Netanyahu’s and Deri’s representatives. The representative of Attorney General Gali Baharav-Miara called for the rejection of the petitions against the “Deri Law,” but also demanded the court remove him from his position as minister because the appointment is “extremely unreasonable,” according to him.

Attorney General Baharav-Miara emphasized that her position is in favor of rejecting the petitions even though they raise weighty issues regarding the authority of the Knesset to enact and amend basic laws, as well as the relevant considerations for the appointment of a minister in the government. Her position in favor of rejecting the petitions lies in her opposition to the court’s intervention in amending the Basic Law enacted by the Knesset. However, as expressed by the AG’s representatives in Knesset discussions, the amendment is not intended to solve a general problem, but to change the legal consequences of a criminal conviction on the tenure of a minister and to allow a certain – convicted – Knesset Member to be appointed to the position of minister without the question of disgrace being examined by the Chair of the Central Election Commission.

Attorney’s General Baharav-Miara made it clear that the Shas leader’s appointment as a minister radically exceeds the realm of reasonableness. She added that already in 2015 and 2016 the court determined the appointment of Deri to a minister is on the border of the realm of plausibility, but with the additional conviction in 2022, such an appointment will cross the realm of plausibility.

During the hearing, the representative of the petitioners claimed that Deri did a “trick” to escape the decision on the question of defamation. At the hearing, one of the judges quoted Deri as saying at the time of his conviction that he was retiring from the Knesset, with his lawyer responding that it was “a rare incident of misunderstanding.”

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