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Netanyahu government suffers legal defeat as Israeli court bans minister from serving

JERUSALEM, Israel — The Israeli Supreme Court on Wednesday disqualified a senior coalition member of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s government from serving as minister. In a 10 to 1 decision, the court declared that the appointment of Aryeh Deri as Minister of new coalition government was “extremely unreasonable”.

Deri is the leader of the Shas party, a religious party mostly made up of Sephardic Jews. Shas has the second-most seats in Netanyahu’s coalition government with 11, and if they were to leave the government, Israelis would likely have to return to the polls.

Deri currently serves as health and internal affairs minister and will later split his term and become the all-powerful finance minister in the second half of Netanyahu’s government. He is also Deputy Prime Minister.

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Benjamin Netanyahu, left, and Aryeh Deri

Benjamin Netanyahu, left, and Aryeh Deri
(Hillel Maeir/TPS/Dossier)

In 2000, Deri served 22 months in prison for accepting bribes. In January 2022, he resigned from the Israeli parliament following a plea deal on different fraud charges. The deal was criticized by many members of the Israeli public, saying it let Deri go too easily and paved the way for his quick return to politics despite the alleged crimes and his promise to retire from politics.

It is now up to Netanyahu to decide whether to honor the court’s decision and remove him from office or retain his appointment.

Two weeks ago, in his response to petitions filed against Deri serving, Netanyahu said that “there is no way to bring governmental stability without his appointment”, calling Deri “an anchor of experience, wisdom and responsibility”. Netanyahu reportedly visited Deri on Wednesday afternoon to discuss the matter.

Deri’s party released a statement accusing the court of rejecting Shas’ 400,000 voters: “Today the court effectively ruled that the election made no sense. The court’s decision is political and tainted with ‘extreme unreasonableness’.

Netanyahu’s coalition parties issued a joint statement shortly after the verdict, calling it “shocking and painful”.

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Supreme Court of Israel in Jerusalem.

Supreme Court of Israel in Jerusalem.
(Hillel Maier/TPS/Dossier)

The statement noted: “Beyond the grave personal injustice caused to Minister Deri himself, the verdict is a huge injustice to the more than two million citizens, the majority of the people, who voted in favor of a government led by Benjamin Netanyahu in which Aryeh Deri plays a central and significant role. »

He continued, “We will act in all legal ways at our disposal and without delay to correct the injustice and the serious damage caused to the democratic decision and the sovereignty of the people.”

Israeli Social Affairs Minister Yaakov Margi of Shas warned on Kan Radio on Wednesday that if the court disqualifies Deri, Netanyahu “will understand that there will be no government. We said there was no reason for Aryeh Deri not to be a minister in Israel.”

The decision could jeopardize Netanyahu’s new coalition as it shortened the timeline for Israel’s looming constitutional crisis and potentially plunged his coalition into chaos. Some of his coalition partners have already called on him to ignore the ruling.

Aryeh until

Aryeh until
(Gideon Marcowicz/TPS/Dossier)

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The Movement for Quality Government in Israel and the other appeal petitioners welcomed the court’s decision and called on Netanyahu to respect the ruling and fire Deri.

“This is a significant victory in upholding the rule of law and a success for the entire Israeli public,” they said in a statement.

The court’s decision comes as Israeli Justice Minister Yariv Levin outlined his plan to reform Israel’s judiciary that would limit the court’s power to judicially review legislation, allowing the Knesset to legislate again if the court invalidates them, and to give the government full control of judicial appointments.

Israeli protesters gather against Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's new government in Tel Aviv on January 14, 2023. (Gili Yaari/NurPhoto via Getty Images)

Israeli protesters gather against Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s new government in Tel Aviv on January 14, 2023. (Gili Yaari/NurPhoto via Getty Images)

Over the past two weeks, tens of thousands of Israelis have taken to the streets of Tel Aviv and Jerusalem to protest Netanyahu’s new government and plans to overhaul the judicial system. Another mass demonstration is planned for Saturday.

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The TPS news agency reported that Israeli opposition leader Yair Lapid demanded that Netanyahu follow the court’s decision and let Deri go, saying: “If Aryeh Deri is not fired, the Israeli government breaks the law. A government that does not follow the law is an illegal government.”

This is not the first time that the court has forced an Israeli prime minister to dismiss one of his coalition members. In 1993, he called on the late Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin to impeach the same Aryeh Deri following his first indictment.

Yonat Friling is a senior producer for Fox News in the Middle East. You can follow her on @FrilingYonat

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