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Netanyahu fires Deri ‘with a heavy heart’ after High Court rejects minister’s conviction

On Sunday, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu fired top cabinet ally Aryeh Deri, in a move that is expected to spark political uncertainty despite being mandated by the High Court of Justice and advocated by the attorney general.

Netanyahu says he was ‘forced with a heavy heart’ to comply with Wednesday’s court decision — which cited Deri’s multiple convictions and recent apparent deception by a lower court — and ending Deri’s dual appointment as interior and health minister. The dismissal will take effect on Tuesday. Deri’s Shas party has been pushing for Netanyahu to find a way for him to join the cabinet, and the prime minister has pledged to find “any legal means whereby you can continue to contribute to the State of Israel.

Responding to his dismissal, Deri said that after the court ruling, “it was clear” to him and to Netanyahu that he would leave the government, but not retire from political life. “No court ruling will prevent me from serving and representing” the nearly 400,000 Shas voters who gave his ultra-Orthodox party 11 Knesset seats in the November elections, he said.

Deri vowed to continue leading Shas as a Knesset lawmaker, chairing meetings of its factions, and attending meetings of coalition party leaders. Indeed, Deri attended a meeting of coalition leaders called by Netanyahu shortly after the cabinet meeting in which he was sacked.

A spokesman for Deri said the Shas chief would also retain his title of deputy prime minister, which is largely ceremonial and carries no official authority. It is unclear whether this will allow Deri to retain an observer seat at the cabinet table, but the spokesman said it was likely the government would continue to invite Deri to its meetings as an observer .

In short, during Sunday’s cabinet meeting, Netanyahu temporarily left the room and left the meeting on Deri’s charge. Earlier this month, Deri briefly stood in for Netanyahu when the prime minister underwent a routine colonoscopy.

In his comments on Sunday, the prime minister slammed the court’s ‘unfortunate decision’ to disqualify Deri from the ministerial post, saying it ignored ‘the will of the people, as evidenced by the considerable public trust in elected representatives who sit in my government. , when it was clear to all that you would serve in the cabinet as a chief minister.

“I thought it was important for you to serve the State of Israel as a member of my government’s security cabinet, where you might have influence, given your years of experience as as a cabinet member in the governments of deceased prime ministers Yitzhak Shamir and Yitzhak Rabin — a rich experience that contributed to Israel’s security and resilience,” Netanyahu continued, reading to Deri, seated immediately to his right, a prepared letter.

The prime minister will struggle to resolve the problems caused by Deri’s ousting, just three weeks after being sworn into a hardline coalition that promised political stability, and just three months after winning Israel’s fifth national election in less than four years old.

Aryeh Deri arrives for the weekly cabinet meeting at the Prime Minister’s office in Jerusalem, January 22, 2023. (Olivier Fitoussi/Flash90)

It is unclear who will replace Deri in the interior and health ministries. Normally, when a minister resigns, his portfolios automatically revert to the prime minister for a temporary period until a new minister is appointed. But since Netanyahu faces criminal charges in a separate corruption probe, the law bars him from taking a cabinet seat without the premiership.

As unsourced reports circulated about various potential outside candidates and temporary Shas leaders replacing Deri, opposition leader Yair Lapid called on Netanyahu to make an immediate appointment to fill the vacancies.

“What we see is not a government, it’s a circus. Netanyahu is weak, but he must appoint a full-time health minister and interior minister today,” Lapid said in a statement shortly after the cabinet meeting.

Deri was given oversight of two of Israel’s most powerful and best-funded ministries despite his financial crimes. Although Netanyahu did not refer to Deri’s impending ouster at the start of Sunday’s meeting, he devoted most of his remarks to “congratulating Deputy Prime Minister and Health Minister Aryeh Deri” for the expansion of health services covered by the country’s national health insurance.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu leads the weekly cabinet meeting at the Prime Minister’s Office in Jerusalem, January 22, 2023. (Olivier Fitoussi/Flash90)

Prime Minister sacks Deri four days after the High Court issued its bombshell ruling that the move to appoint the Shas chief as home and health minister was ‘grossly unreasonable’ in light of the convictions Deri’s criminal charges, the most recent in January 2022.

Deri then reached a plea deal with the Jerusalem Magistrate’s Court, which allowed him to leave the Knesset before his sentencing and thus avoid a hearing on whether his conviction for tax evasion involved turpitude. Morality – a designation that would have barred him from holding public office for seven years. years.

The court at the time believed that Deri was retiring from public life. However, he continued to lead Shas from outside the Knesset and was quickly reinstated as a lawmaker in the November 1 election. Deri then demanded that Netanyahu ensure he returned to the cabinet table, despite the Basic Law: the government requires the Central Elections Committee to determine whether his crime carried moral turpitude before he could be appointed minister.

The coalition rushed to find a solution to allow Deri to be sworn in with the rest of the cabinet on December 29.

Supreme Court President Esther Hayut during a hearing on motions seeking the quashing of Shas leader Aryeh Deri’s appointment as a government minister due to his recent conviction for tax crimes, at the Supreme Court in Jerusalem, January 5, 2023. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

Deri on Sunday doubled down on his claim that he never gave the court the impression he was quitting politics, despite the judge’s advice. comments from the moment confirming exactly this impression. The High Court, in its ruling last week, partially relied on the concept of estoppelarguing that Deri could not qualify for a lenient plea deal based on the assumption that he would leave public life and then quickly return to public life.

In addition to employing estoppel, court overturned Deri’s appointment as failing the test of reasonableness, a judicial test the Netanyahu government has vowed to eliminate as part of its push to pass changes radicals to the system of checks and balances.

“I can tell my friends in government and the public that it was clear to the prosecution and it was clear to the former attorney general, Dr Avichai Mandelblit, that I had no intentions and that I did not “I never intended and did not commit to leaving politics. Things were clear and on the table from start to finish of the discussions,” Deri said during the cabinet meeting.

The Netanyahu government’s push to remake the judiciary would also include transferring the appointment of judges to political control and creating a mechanism to protect basic laws from court interference and to re-legislate other laws overturned by the courts. the tribunal. His government says it is necessary to correct the balance of power between the political and judicial branches, but critics, including more than 100,000 Israelis who took to the streets Saturday night to protest the reform plan, say he threatens democratic institutions and endangers civil liberties by giving virtually all power to the coalition government.

Coalition party leaders meet with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in Jerusalem, January 22, 2023. (Courtesy Likud)

After the cabinet meeting, top coalition leaders met with Netanyahu. A Likud spokesman said the meeting took place in “good spirits” and with “warmth”. Religious Zionism leader Bezalel Smotrich attended, although he boycotted the cabinet meeting with two other party ministers to protest the government’s decision to override its protection of an illegal settlement on Friday.

In addition to coalition faction leaders Deri, Smotrich, Yitzhak Goldknopf of United Torah Judaism, Itamar Ben Gvir of Otzma Yehudit and Avi Maoz of Noam, the meeting was also attended by the leader of the Degel HaTorah faction of the ‘UTJ, Moshe Gafni – Justice Minister Yariv Levin, Education Minister Yoav Kisch and Coalition Whip Ofir Katz.

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