The High Court of Justice on Wednesday nixed Shas leader Arye Deri’s appointment as minister in the new government in a dramatic ruling, citing “extreme unreasonableness” as the reason for his disqualification.
With ten judges supporting the decision and one dissenting, the justices wrote in the majority opinion that the ultra-Orthodox lawmaker was ineligible to hold the roles of health and interior minister due to his conviction past criminal convictions, namely his conviction on tax evasion charges from last year. The panel ruled that Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu must remove Deri from his post.
“Due to his past criminal convictions… and the position Deri presented to the Magistrate's Court, according to which he was retiring from political life, and his conduct thereafter," they wrote.
Deri was convicted last year on charges of tax evasion. He escaped punishment after signing a plea deal that saw him resign as a member of the Knesset. Although the move seemed to signal the end of Deri’s political career, he nonetheless helmed his ultra-Orthodox party in the most recent November election, in which his party secured 11 Knesset seats.
In the minority opinion, sole dissenter Justice Yosef Elron wrote that he believed that the appointment should stand, but Deri must first appeal to the chairman of the Central Election Committee to have him determine the matter.
Earlier this week, Deri made it clear that even if the High Court disqualifies him, he will not resign from his post, saying in closed conversations, "the onus is on Netanyahu, he has to solve this problem."
However, Netanyahu’s ruling Likud party struggles to find creative solutions that would keep Deri in the government legally, and the party even estimates that he will only be able to remain a member of the coalition without serving as a minister.
One idea floated by Likud lawmakers is to abolish the reasonableness principle used by the court to determine whether administrative decisions are “reasonable” and have been made with the proper consideration of all relevant factors.
Likud sources have told Ynet and its sister publication Yedioth Ahronoth that such legislation cannot be rushed through and might take weeks or even months to pass.
According to Likud lawmakers, since Prime Minister Netanyahu does not intend to violate the High Court's ruling, the Shas chairman and the premier’s closest ally might find himself out of the government for a long time, a scenario that could spark a major coalition crisis.
Deri’s Shas party, which caters mainly to a constituency of impoverished and working-class Sephardic Jews, slammed the High Court’s ruling, which it deemed “extremely unreasonable.”
“Today, the High Court, which presents itself as the protector of minorities, threw away the voices and votes of 400,000 voters of the Shas movement, which represents the underprivileged in Israel who went to the polls just two months ago,” the party wrote in a statement.
“The court's decision is political and tainted by extreme unreasonableness, the entire Shas movement is shocked by this arbitrary decision."
Opposition leader Yair Lapid called on the government to honor the ruling and warned that it will be going against the law otherwise which might plunge Israel into a constitutional crisis.
“If Arye Deri is not fired, Israel will find itself in an unprecedented constitutional crisis and will no longer be a democracy and will not be a state of laws," he said.
Justice Minister Yariv Levin, who is pushing a far-reaching reform that is aimed at reining in the power of the judiciary, vowed to do “everything necessary so that this injustice that cries to the heavens and was inflicted upon Rabbi Arye Deri, the Shas movement and Israeli democracy will be fully corrected."
Levin then went on to reprimand the court for “failing to respect the decision of the people, the judgment of the prime minister, and the decision of the Knesset that expressed confidence in the current government."
Meanwhile, the leaders of the coalition parties have issued a joint statement vowing to fight the ruling by all legal means.
“We received the verdict in Deri's case with shock, pain and great sorrow," the statement read. "We will act in any legal way at our disposal and without delay to correct this injustice and the serious harm done to the democratic process."
First published: 16:22, 01.18.23