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Israeli Supreme Court rules Netanyahu minister cannot serve

January 18, 2023

Aryeh Deri, a senior minister, cannot serve in the government, Israel's top court has said. Deri was convicted of tax offenses and placed on probation.

Aryeh Deri
Despite his conviction, Deri has served as minister beofreImage: AMIR COHEN/REUTERS

The Supreme Court of Israel ruled on Wednesday that Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu must fire a key ally from his new Cabinet.

Ten of 11 judges on the court found that Aryeh Deri, the head of the Shas party, is disqualified from serving as a minister after he was convicted last year for tax offenses and placed on probation as part of a plea deal.

Netanyahu had tapped Deri to hold the interior and health portfolios and later become finance minister under a rotation agreement.

The move could potentially put Netanyahu's coalition on shaky ground and is likely to widen the rift between the court and the prime minister's government, which presented plans several days ago to rein in the power of the judges.

"Most of the judges on the panel decided that this appointment suffers from extreme unreasonability, and therefore the prime minister must remove Deri from his position,'' the court said in a statement.

Deri has been convicted of several offenses over the years, with the most recent for tax offenses in 2022. In 1999, he was convicted of bribery, corruption and embezzlement and served nearly two years of a three-year sentence.

He staged a political comeback in 2013 and has served in several of Netanyahu's previous Cabinets.

For his part, Deri has announced his intention to stay in his job. Netanyahu has not yet publicly commented on Wednesday's ruling.

Netanyahu's coalition could be at stake

Yakov Margi, a Shas Cabinet minister, told Israel's Kan public radio, "If Aryeh Deri isn't in the government, there isn't a government.'' Some Shas members have implied that if Deri isn't given a position in keeping with his status as the leader of the party, they could leave the coalition.

This could potentially trigger another governmental crisis after a period of political instability that saw five elections between 2019 and 2022.

Opposition leader Yair Lapid warned that Israel would enter a "constitutional crisis" if Deri isn't removed.

Netanyahu's government has been seeking reforms to the Supreme Court that could alter its ability to question government decisions.

The government says the changes are needed to rein in judicial overreach. Critics counter that the move would severely damage the court's ability to check political power.

Public opinion polls have shown most Israelis oppose Deri serving as a government minister.

es/wmr (AP, dpa, Reuters)