Economy Minister Aryeh Deri (L) speaks to the Knesset as speaker Yuli Edelstein looks on.
(photo credit: MARC ISRAEL SELLEM)
Shas leader Arye Deri will return Monday to the Interior Ministry, 23 years after he was forced to quit due to criminal charges that led to jail time, pending the approval of the Knesset and the High Court of Justice.
The cabinet unanimously approved Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s appointment of Deri. The Knesset is expected to split along coalition and opposition lines, though Yisrael Beytenu could surprise by supporting the appointment of Deri, who is friends with party chairman Avigdor Liberman.
Netanyahu congratulated Deri and said he had two main challenges in the job: preventing migrants from entering the country illegally and deporting those already here, and altering municipal boundaries to allow for a more equitable tax distribution.
But the Movement for Quality Government immediately petitioned the High Court seeking to cancel the appointment on grounds that he never expressed regret for the corruption that forced him to leave the ministry.
Deri was forced to resign in 1993 during an investigation, after five years as interior minister. In 2000, he was convicted of bribery, fraud and breach of trust and sentenced to three years in prison, and released after 22 months.
“Arye Deri proved throughout his career that he is a corrupt man and there is no reason to allow him to return to such a position of influence,” said Boaz Arad, of the anti-corruption watchdog, Ometz. “On principle, he is unfit for any ministry, but returning to the same ministry is especially spitting at the public.”
The case is not expected to succeed because Attorney- General Yehuda Weinstein has ruled that although the appointment could harm the public’s faith in its government and sends a “problematic message,” there is no legal reason to block Deri from receiving the post. Once the appointment is approved, Netanyahu, who now holds the post, will be left with four portfolios: Foreign Affairs, Economy, Communication and Regional Cooperation.
Kulanu leader Moshe Kahlon and Bayit Yehudi head Naftali Bennett told Netanyahu Sunday that their factions would oppose him appointing more than one Likud minister to fill the vacancies, because they will insist the ratio of ministers for each party is maintained.
Netanyahu had hoped to appoint two ministers to replace departed former interior minister Silvan Shalom and former science and technology minister Danny Danon. But Kahlon said the Likud had received an extra portfolio at the expense of United Torah Judaism before the High Court ruled that UTJ head Ya’acov Litzman could not control the Health Ministry as a deputy minister.
The prime minister would like to appoint both coalition chairman Tzachi Hanegbi and MK Bennie Begin as ministers (both men are members of the Likud). He will then appoint replacements for Hanegbi as Knesset Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee chairman and chairman of the coalition.
Deri was economy minister but left the post because he did not want to advance a controversial gas deal. Shalom left the Interior Ministry last month after sexual misconduct allegations.
“This is just another act in Netanyahu’s circus, in which the ministers themselves don’t even remember where they work when they wake up in the morning and the public realizes the bad joke is on them,” opposition leader Isaac Herzog said.
Yesh Atid said it opposed permitting anyone who has been convicted of a crime involving moral turpitude to serve in the cabinet or the Knesset.
“When citizens think that the system is crooked, it is hard to persuade them why they have to remain honest,” Yesh Atid leader Yair Lapid said.