Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu sacked top ally Aryeh Deri from the cabinet on Sunday, a move expected to spark political uncertainty despite being mandated by the Supreme Court and endorsed by the Attorney General.
Netanyahu said he was “with a heavy heart compelled” to comply with Wednesday’s court ruling – citing Deri’s multiple convictions and recent apparent deception by a lower court – and ending Deri’s dual appointments as interior and health ministers. The termination will take effect on Tuesday. Deris Shas’ party has been pushing for Netanyahu to find a way for him to rejoin the cabinet, and the prime minister vowed to find “any legal way through which you can continue to contribute to the State of Israel”.
In response to his sacking, Deri said that after the court decision, it was “clear” to both him and Netanyahu that he would leave the government, but that he would not retire from political life. “No judicial decision will prevent me from serving and representing the approximately 400,000 Shas voters,” he said.
Deri pledged to continue leading Shas as a legislator in the Knesset, chairing its faction meetings and attending meetings of coalition party leaders. Indeed, shortly after the cabinet meeting at which he was fired, Deri attended a meeting of coalition leaders convened by Netanyahu.
A spokesman for Deri said the Shas chief will also retain his vice prime minister title, which is mostly honorific and has no official authority. It is unclear whether Deri 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.
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In short, during Sunday’s cabinet meeting, Netanyahu temporarily left the room and left the meeting under Deri’s care. Earlier this month, Deri briefly filled in for Netanyahu when the prime minister underwent a routine colonoscopy.
In his comments on Sunday, the prime minister criticized the court’s “unfortunate decision” to bar Deri from the ministerial post, saying it “ignores the will of the people, as evidenced by the considerable trust the public has in the elected officials of my government, than in all.” it was clear that you would serve as Prime Minister in the Cabinet.”
“I argued that it was important for you to serve the State of Israel as a member of my government’s Security Cabinet, where you could exert influence in the governments of the late Prime Ministers Yitzhak Shamir and Yitzhak Rabin because of your years of experience as a cabinet minister – rich experience that too Israel’s security and resilience,” Netanyahu continued, reading a prepared letter to Deri, who was sitting immediately to his right.
Barely three weeks after swearing in an uncompromising coalition that promised political stability and just three months after winning Israel’s fifth national election in less than four years, the prime minister will struggle to resolve the problems caused by Deri’s ouster .
Aryeh Deri arrives at the Prime Minister’s office in Jerusalem for the weekly cabinet meeting on 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. However, since Netanyahu faces criminal charges in connection with a separate corruption probe, he is barred by law from holding a cabinet seat outside of the prime ministerial office.
As unsourced reports emerged of various potential outside candidates and temporary Shas leaders filling in for Deri, opposition leader Yair Lapid urged Netanyahu to agree on an immediate appointment to fill the vacancies.
“What we are seeing is not a government, it is a circus. Netanyahu is weak, but he needs to appoint a full-time health minister and interior minister today,” Lapid said in a statement shortly after the cabinet meeting.
Despite his financial crimes, Deri has been put in charge of two of Israel’s most powerful and well-funded ministries. Although Netanyahu made no reference to Deri’s impending ouster at the start of Sunday’s meeting, he dedicated the bulk of his remarks to “congratulating Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Health Aryeh Deri” for the expansion of health services covered by the country’s national health insurance.
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu chairs the weekly cabinet meeting at the Prime Minister’s office in Jerusalem on January 22, 2023. (Olivier Fitoussi/Flash90)
The prime minister sacked Deri four days after the Supreme Court issued its bombshell ruling that the decision to appoint the Shas leader as home and health minister was “extremely unreasonable” given Deri’s criminal convictions, most recently in January 2022.
Deri then struck a settlement with the Jerusalem Magistrates’ Court that allowed him to leave the Knesset before his sentencing, thus avoiding a hearing on whether his conviction for tax fraud contained moral reproach – a label that would have barred him from serving seven years long to hold public office years.
At the time, the court believed that Deri was withdrawing from public life. However, he continued to lead Shas from outside the Knesset and was quickly reinstated as lawmaker in the November 1 elections. Deri then demanded that Netanyahu ensure his way back to the cabinet table despite the Basic Law: the government required the Central Electoral Commission to determine whether his crime contained moral reproach before he could be appointed minister.
The coalition rushed through a fix to allow Deri to be sworn in with the rest of the cabinet on December 29.
Supreme Court President Esther Hayut at a hearing on petitions calling for the annulment of Shas leader Aryeh Deri’s appointment as government minister following his recent conviction of tax offenses at the Jerusalem Supreme Court on January 5, 2023. (Yonatan Sindel /Flash90)
Deri on Sunday doubled down on his claim that he never gave the court the impression that he was giving up politics, although the judge’s comments at the time confirmed exactly that impression. The High Court relied in part on the concept of judicial estoppel in its decision last week, arguing that Deri could not benefit from a lenient plea deal based on the assumption that he would leave public life and then quickly re-enter public life life would return.
In addition to applying Estoppel, the court overturned Deri’s appointment because it failed the adequacy test, a judicial standard Netanyahu’s government has vowed to eliminate as part of its efforts to pass sweeping changes to the system of checks and balances.
“I can tell my friends in government and the public that the prosecutor and former Attorney General Dr. It was clear to Avichai Mandelblit that I had no intention and never had any intention and made no commitment to retire from political life. Things were clear and on the table from the start of discussions to the end,” Deri said during the cabinet meeting.
Netanyahu’s government’s push to reshape the judiciary would also include transferring the appointment of judges to political control and creating a mechanism to protect fundamental laws from court interference and re-enact other laws struck down by the court. His government says there is a need to rectify the balance of power between politics and the judiciary, but critics, including over 100,000 Israelis who took to the streets on Saturday night to protest the reform plan, say it threatens democratic institutions and endangers civic ones Freedoms by surrendering virtually all power to the governing coalition.
Coalition party leaders meet with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in Jerusalem on January 22, 2023. (Courtesy of Likud)
After the cabinet meeting, key coalition leaders met with Netanyahu. A Likud spokesman said the meeting was conducted in “good spirits” and with “cordiality.” Zionist religious leader Bezalel Smotrich attended despite boycotting the cabinet meeting along with two other party ministers in protest at the government’s decision to suspend its protections on 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 UTJ faction leader Degel HaTorah, Moshe Gafni, and several members Netanyahu’s Likud party – Justice Minister Yariv Levin, Education Minister Yoav Kish and coalition leader Ofir Katz.