Netanyahu government suffers legal defeat as Israeli court bars minister from serving

JERUSALEM, Israel – The Israeli Supreme Court on Wednesday disqualified an important coalition member of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s government from serving as a minister. In a 10-1 ruling, the court said Aryeh Deri’s appointment as a minister in the new coalition government was “extremely unreasonable.”

Deri is leader of the Shas party, a religious party mostly made up of Sephardic Jews. Shas has the second-most seats in Netanyahu’s coalition government with 11, and if they were to leave the government, Israelis would likely have to go back to the polls.

Deri is currently serving as the minister of health and interior affairs and will later split his term and become the all-powerful finance minister in the second half of the Netanyahu government. He also serves as a deputy prime minister.

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Benjamin Netanyahu, left, and Aryeh Deri
(Hillel Maeir / TPS / File)

In 2000, Deri served 22 months in prison for taking bribes. In January 2022, he resigned from the Israeli Parliament following a plea deal on different fraud charges. The deal was criticized by many in the Israeli public, claiming it let Deri off too easily and paved the way for his swift comeback to politics despite the alleged crimes and his pledge to retire from politics.

It is now up to Netanyahu to decide whether to honor the court ruling and remove him from office or keep his appointment.

Two weeks ago, in his response to the petitions filed against Deri serving, Netanyahu said that “there is no way to bring about governmental stability without his appointment,” calling Deri “an anchor of experience, wisdom and responsibility.” Netanyahu reportedly visited Deri Wednesday afternoon to discuss the matter.

Deri’s party released a statement accusing the court of negating Shas’ 400,000 voters: “Today, the court effectively ruled that elections are meaningless. The court’s decision is political and tainted with extreme unreasonableness.”

Netanyahu’s coalition parties issued a joint statement shortly after the verdict, calling it “shocking and painful.”

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Israel's supreme court in Jerusalem.

Israel’s supreme court in Jerusalem.
(Hillel Maier / TPS / File)

The statement noted, “Beyond the severe personal injustice caused to Minister Deri himself, the verdict is a huge injustice to over two million citizens, the majority of the people, who voted in favor of a government headed by Benjamin Netanyahu in which Aryeh Deri will play a central and significant role.”

It continued, “We will act in any legal way available to us and without delay to correct the injustice and the severe damage caused to the democratic decision and the sovereignty of the people.”

Israel’s welfare minister, Yaakov Margi of Shas, warned earlier on Kan Radio Wednesday that if the court disqualified Deri that Netanyahu “understands there will be no government. We have said there is no reason for Aryeh Deri not to serve as a senior minister in Israel .”

The ruling might jeopardize Netanyahu’s new coalition as it has shrunk the timeline of Israel’s impending constitutional crisis and potentially thrown his coalition into chaos. Some of his coalition partners have already called him to ignore the ruling.

Aryeh Deri

Aryeh Deri
(Gideon Marcowicz / TPS / File)

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The Movement for Quality Government in Israel and the other petitioners to the appeal welcomed the court’s decision and called Netanyahu to respect the ruling and dismiss Deri.

“This is a significant victory in maintaining the rule of law and success for the entire Israeli public,” they said in a statement.

The court decision comes as Israel’s Justice Minister Yariv Levin presented his plan for reforming Israel’s judicial system that would limit the court’s power of judicial review of legislation, allowing the Knesset to re-legislate laws if the court strikes them down, and give the government total control over judicial appointments.

Israeli protesters rally against Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's new government in Tel Aviv on Jan.  14, 2023. (Gili Yaari / NurPhoto via Getty Images)

Israeli protesters rally against Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s new government in Tel Aviv on Jan. 14, 2023. (Gili Yaari / NurPhoto via Getty Images)

In the past two weeks, tens of thousands of Israelis took to Tel Aviv and Jerusalem streets to protest against Netanyahu’s new government and the plan to overhaul the judicial system. Another mass demonstration is planned for Saturday.

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TPS news agency reported that Israel’s opposition leader, Yair Lapid, demanded that Netanyahu follow the court’s ruling and let Deri go, saying, “If Aryeh Deri is not fired, the Israeli government is breaking the law. A government that does not obey the law is an illegal government.”

This is not the first time the court made an Israeli prime minister fire one of his coalition members. In 1993, it called upon the late Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin to dismiss the same Aryeh Deri following his first indictment.

Yonat Friling is a Middle East Fox News Senior producer. You can follow her on @FrilingYonat

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