Attorney-General Avichai Mandelblit will likely be the one to force Aryeh Deri from being a minister, but he is putting it off until the last possible moment.
In November, after a nearly three-year probe, the police recommended indicting Deri for tax crimes and some broader fraud charges.
Deri’s past history includes a 2000 bribery conviction leading to his serving more than two years in prison after being forced to resign as a minister and then having to stay out of politics until 2012.
One might think that the November police recommendation might have already forced his current resignation.
Whether he will be convicted at trial or not, if the police were recommending indicting him after he already has a past criminal history, one might think that the tolerance for letting him stay in office would be low if he got anywhere near anything potentially criminal again.
This could especially be true after the good-government NGO, the Movement for the Quality of Government in Israel, warned against his reappointment as a minister in 2015.
The High Court of Justice itself was split on the issue in May 2016 with a narrow 2-1 majority saying that though his past actions were problematic, his prior record did not explicitly legally bar him from reappointment as a minister (after a cooling off period which had expired.)
In that decision, the High Court wrote that there was no bar to his reappointment to return to the interior ministry which he had been forced out of because his criminal conduct had not specifically related to that ministry.
At the time, the NGO had tried to raise the new criminal probe of Deri before the High Court as a trump card to prove he had not learned his lesson.
Instead, the High Court swatted away the new investigation, saying that it would deal with that as a separate issue when and if it became more serious, such as in the case of an indictment or conviction.
Justice Neal Hendel wrote a dissenting opinion in which he said that Deri’s prior crimes were deeply tied to his role as interior minister.
Also, he said those crimes were so grave and struck so destructively at the heart of democracy that he should now be fired as interior minister.
Echoing the petitioners, he said that even if the prime minister and the Knesset have tremendous discretion about whom to appoint to ministerial roles, Deri’s appointment as interior minister went too far.
In the case, both Mandelblit, and his predecessor, Yehuda Weinstein, took the position that reappointing Deri as a minister was unseemly, but not explicitly illegal.
With reports this week that the state prosecution will recommend to Mandelblit to indict Deri, like the police, one might think that the attorney-general would publicly intervene against Deri’s current reappointment as a minister in the context of coalition negotiations.
ALTHOUGH EVERYONE is innocent until proven guilty, based on his prior conviction and the breadth of the allegations against him, it would seem that the writing is on the wall regarding his fate, and being a minister is a special responsibility, not a right.
This would mean that appointing him a minister will simply lead to a waste of legal resources later to dethrone him and wasting the ministry’s time in having to switch ministers mid-course.
The same good government experts have been asking why not avoid the entire drama by blocking his appointment this time?
Even before there was a police recommendation to indict him, let alone a state prosecution recommendation, one of three justices was ready to fire Deri.
If Mandelblit stood up to block it, he might very well succeed.
Also, if Deri is indicted and convicted, it would mean that a corrupt man was running a key ministry for over four years and was repeatedly allowed to do so by both the political and legal establishments despite having known his criminal history.
But all indications are that Mandelblit will not raise objections to Deri’s reappointment, nor will he rush his decision regarding the final indictment.
Deri may get to remain a minister for the next six to 12 months or more before a final indictment decision and a petition to the High Court which would actually force his resignation.
It is unclear whether Mandelblit’s reason for this is because he really believes: 1) that permitting Deri’s reappointment is the right thing to do; 2) that a High Court majority would back Deri again at any point short of a final indictment decision or 3) whether he is concerned about political backlash if he is perceived as rushing Deri out of office given the already shaky situation between him and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.
What appears undeniable at this point is that despite a potential basis to block Deri from his impending reappointment and despite the likely fallout of later having to force him to resign, Mandelblit is indicating that he prefers to kick the can as far down the road as possible.
With no one else willing to press the issue, it will likely be left to the same NGO to later re-raise the same questions about the rule of law before this saga comes to an end.