Before the 34th government can be sworn in on Thursday evening, it has one more obstacle to overcome. Attorney General Yehuda Weinstein told Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu that it would be difficult to defend a Supreme Court petition against the appointments of Shas leader Aryeh Deri as economy minister and Kulanu MK Yoav Galant as construction minister.
Deri was convicted of taking $155,000 in bribes while serving as interior minister and served 22 months of a three-year jail sentence in 2000. He was released early due to good behavior.
Weinstein dedicated 23 pages to Deri in his legal opinion, writing that after examining the legal and factual issues relating to the Shas leader, he found that it is possible to legally interpret that there is no impediment to Deri's appointment. But he did stress that there were valid concerns over Deri's "criminal past."
"This is a decision that evokes legal difficulties given Deri's criminal past, which weighs him down, and the possible damage that could be done to the public trust and the virtue and integrity of government activity as result of Deri's appointment," Weinstein said.
The attorney general asked the prime minister to consider the legal implications and take them into account.
Weinstein stated that Deri does legally qualify to serve again as minister, but added that the Supreme Court ruled in the past that discretion can also be used in such cases. He noted it was not clear that Deri's case fell within the margin of government discretion.
"Legal qualification and discretion should each be considered separately," the attorney general wrote, saying it was Netanyahu's responsibility to use such discretion.
He went on to say that the variety, accumulation and length of legal affairs Deri was involved in over the years present "a very grim picture."
Weinstein stated that Deri "is not one who tripped once and then immediately returned to the straight and narrow, or one who only slightly deviated from the path. He is one who acted unlawfully under the guise of 'private activity' and without consideration for his public office. He also did not recognize his sins nor take responsibility for his actions."
He pointed to the Supreme Court's comments on Deri, which determined that if one who took bribes served as minister, there would be "far-reaching consequences to the nature of governance in Israel, its good faith and fairness."
To Deri's credit, Weinstein noted the passage of time, the fact Deri was elected to the Knesset by the public and stressed the prime minister's right to take into account the necessity of the appointment to the government, the stability of the government and its ability to meet its tasks.
Weinstein also said that if Deri is appointed economy minister, it would be easier "to some extent" if the authority to appoint judges to the Labor Courts was stripped from him.
He also stated that the appointment of Deri to any specific ministry could raise additional difficulties that might require further examination.
Weinstein said the offenses of which Deri was convicted, including bribery, are some of the gravest offenses in the area of government corruption. These offenses harm the governing structure "and there is no doubt they carry moral turpitude."
Deri, Weinstein said, "took advantage of his status and position to embezzle public funds and look after his own interests and those of his close allies... he adopted a criminal lifestyle."
The attorney general pointed to the grave comments made by the Supreme Court about Deri during his appeal.
He said the gravity of Deri's offenses, their essence and their accumulation "all show, based on the standards set in the ruling, that Deri's criminal past should hold considerable sway in the decision to appoint him to public office."
Regarding Galant, the attorney general stated that the three lands affairs in which he was involved, on the basis of which his appointment to IDF chief of staff was revoked, do not pose an obstacle to his appointment as a minister, nor particularly to the construction minister.
However, Weinstein noted the appointment was not free of difficulties, especially in the public arena, stating that if the proposition to strip the Construction Ministry of the responsibility over the Israel Land Council is accepted, it would ease the difficulties.
Weinstein stated that Galant unlawfully used public open spaces, and in some cases misrepresented the facts.
Galant, he said, relied on "the power of the authority that came with his position in order to promote personal affairs."
To Galant's credit, Weinstein wrote that he was not indicted, a long period of time had passed since the suspicions against Galant arose, the shortcomings were corrected, his appointment to chief of staff was revoked, and one could assume Galant understood the error of his ways.
The Shas party said that it "accepts with satisfaction the attorney general's legal opinion, which clearly determines there is no legal obstacle to the appointment of chairman Rabbi Aryeh Deri as economy minister.
"We welcome the respect to the voter's will and the election results. Furthermore, the events at the base of the legal proceedings in question happened over 30 years ago. Shas welcomes the prime minister's intention to complete the formation of the government without haste in order to handle the urgent needs of the state."