(photo credit: MARC ISRAEL SELLEM/THE JERUSALEM POST)
In a split vote, the High Court of Justice on Sunday ended one of the primary threats to Interior Minister Arye Deri’s political career, letting him keep his post despite his prior conviction for bribery.
The Movement for the Quality of Government in Israel had petitioned against Deri’s appointment because he previously held the same position, but was forced to resign in 1993 amid a corruption investigation.
With only Justice Neal Hendel dissenting, the High Court majority made two points to clear the cloud hanging over Deri’s head.
First, Justices Salim Joubran and Yoram Danziger responded to the attack that Deri should be fired from his ministerial position because allowing him to keep it would undermine the public’s faith in the rule of law.
They signaled that the Knesset’s approval of his receiving the post, with the approval being specific to him and not just part of a general approval of all of the ministers, assuaged any doubts about his appointment having the support of the public.
Second, they responded to the attack that even if he could be a minister, he could not be allowed to be interior minister because his bribery conviction was connected to his prior incumbency in that same position.
Here, the majority said that though his bribery conviction was connected to his position as interior minister, he had not used any powers unique to being interior minister to commit those crimes.
Because his crimes were not connected to using special interior minister powers, the High Court wrote that there was no legal bar to him keeping the position.
In 2000, Deri was convicted of bribery, fraud, breach of trust and he was sentenced to three years in prison. He was released in 2002 after serving 22 months.
He also waited longer than his seven-year ban from politics and was not reinstated as Shas party leader until 2012.
Despite Deri’s history, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu appointed him to return to the post in recent months.
Deri also dodged another bullet in the case, but it may still come to haunt him.
He is currently under criminal investigation for new alleged offenses reportedly connected to a large amount of real estate that he and his family members own, allegedly through illegal means.
The NGO had tried to raise this issue before the High Court as a trump card to tie his past conviction together to the current criminal investigation and to present him as not having 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.
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.