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Israel’s Supreme Court strikes down appointment of key Netanyahu ally

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Israel’s Supreme Court struck down the appointment of a minister who is a critical ally of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, dealing an early challenge to the stability of the newly sworn-in coalition government.

The judges found the appointment of Shas leader Aryeh Deri as a minister “extremely unreasonable” in light of his conviction last year for tax evasion. They noted his subsequent promise to quit political life as part of a plea deal and his conviction two decades ago on bribery, fraud and breach-of-trust charges while in office, for which he served nearly two years in prison.

The court, in a 10-1 ruling, said that Mr. Deri can’t continue in his roles as interior, health and rotating finance minister.

The ruling comes just as Mr. Netanyahu’s government is rolling out a plan to overhaul the justice system, which coalition members demanded be expedited in light of the court’s decision on Mr. Deri.

The plan will give the ruling coalition more say in which judges are appointed, allow a simple majority of lawmakers to override the Supreme Court should it strike down legislation and remove the ability for judges to base rulings on the grounds of reasonability, as they did in Mr. Deri’s case.

Israeli law forbids a recent convict from serving as a minister. Mr. Netanyahu’s coalition amended the country’s law before the government was sworn in to allow people recently convicted of crimes to serve as ministers if they had suspended jail terms and didn’t serve time in prison, like Mr. Deri.

The judges in their ruling on Wednesday criticised the amendment to the law for its apparent personal character but didn’t challenge its legality. Still, they considered the appointment unreasonable given Mr. Deri’s criminal record and vow to leave politics.

“[The principle of] reasonableness is not in the written law but has been in our common law for decades,” said Dr. Amir Fuchs, a senior researcher at the Jerusalem-based think tank the Israel Democracy Institute.

Shas, which is the second-largest party in Mr. Netanyahu’s coalition, said the ruling negated the will of hundreds of thousands of voters who voted for the ultraorthodox leader just a few months ago, with full knowledge of his criminal record.

“Today, the court ruled in practice that elections are meaningless,” the party said.

If Mr. Netanyahu ignores the court ruling, as some in his coalition want, opposition leaders say it would cause a constitutional crisis.

“If Aryeh Deri is not fired, Israel will be in an unprecedented constitutional crisis,” said opposition leader Yair Lapid.

On the other hand, members of the Shas party are threatening to topple the government if Mr. Deri isn’t given a senior appointment.

“If Aryeh Deri is not in the government — there is no government,” said Shas ally and Welfare Minister Yaakov Mergi, hours before the court’s ruling, in an interview with Israel’s national broadcaster Kan.

Shas controls 11 seats in the ruling coalition of 64 lawmakers in the 120-seat parliament, and its exit from the government would rob it of a majority and leave it vulnerable to collapse.

Political analysts say it is unlikely that Shas would leave the government so early after its formation and that it will instead demand a solution from Mr. Netanyahu.

Legal analysts say the government could try to reinstate Mr. Deri after passing its judicial-overhaul plan, which would allow the coalition to overturn Supreme Court rulings.

“We will act in any legal way available to us and without delay to correct this injustice,” said the party leaders of Mr. Netanyahu’s coalition in a joint statement.

Article link:
Article source: The Australian / Wall Street Journal | Dov Lieber | January 19, 2023

2024-05-08 07:04:10.000000

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