Jerusalem CNN —
Israel’s top court ruled 10-1 on Wednesday that Aryeh Deri, leader of the Shas party and a key ally of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, is barred from serving as interior minister over a February 2022 tax fraud conviction.
Netanyahu should remove Deri from his post, the court ruling said. Such a step would plunge the country into a constitutional crisis.
Deris Shas’ party — which won 11 seats in Israel’s 120-seat parliament, the Knesset, in November and is a key component of Netanyahu’s coalition — immediately hit back, calling the court decision “arbitrary and unprecedented.”
The Sephardi religious party said the court “today threw away the votes and votes of 400,000 Shas movement voters.”
“Today the court actually ruled that the elections are meaningless. The court’s decision is political and corrupt,” the party said.
The Supreme Court had been asked to consider an amendment to Israeli law that would allow Deri to serve in the government despite his conviction for tax fraud. The judges ruled that his appointment “cannot stand.”
“Among other things, this is due to his backlog of criminal convictions” and his failure to withdraw from the public eye, as he had announced when he was sentenced in the tax fraud case.
Deri was a member of the Knesset at the time of his conviction for tax fraud last year.
He resigned as MP instead of giving the chair of the Electoral Commission a chance to decide whether the conviction disqualified him from serving as a minister.
Deri allies signaled this week that the Shas party leader would not step down from his ministerial post even if the court verdict were against him.
His refusal to step down – or Netanyahu’s refusal to sack him – could potentially spark a constitutional crisis in which the government is taking on the Supreme Court.
Netanyahu’s ruling coalition relies on Shas’ 11 seats, so Deri’s sacking would plunge the government into crisis.
This is a developing story, more to come…