Arye Deri (Shas).
(photo credit: MARC ISRAEL SELLEM)
The Knesset approved Shas leader Arye Deri’s return to the Interior Ministry 54-43 Monday, 23 years after he left the post due to corruption charges.
Opposition MKs called the appointment problematic, in light of Deri’s criminal past, even though it is legal.
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, being released after 22 months.
Yesh Atid chairman Yair Lapid said that “a person convicted of a crime with moral turpitude in this country cannot be a customs agent, an engineer in a municipality, a principal, a judge or a religious judge, a firefighter, director of a government company, manager of a medical laboratory...He can’t be a firefighter, but there’s no problem for him being a minister.
Lapid said he was not targeting Deri personally, and that he would say the same to former prime minister Ehud Olmert or former finance minister Avraham Hirschson, both convicted on corruption charges, or former president Moshe Katsav, convicted of rape.
“They cannot go back to their jobs if they were convicted of a crime with moral turpitude,” he emphasized.
MK Miki Rosenthal (Zionist Union) pointed out that Deri said in an interview in May, when the government was formed, that he would not return to the Interior Ministry, because it is problematic.
“Now all the hypocrites are saying there is no problem,” Rosenthal stated. “It’s kosher, but it stinks. Would it be acceptable for Katsav to go back to the President’s Residence or Olmert to the Prime Minister’s Office?” Rosenthal said the matter is “one of values, not legality.”
MK Yisrael Eichler (UTJ) said the fact that Deri was removed from the Interior Ministry in the first place is immoral, calling the courts “institutes for political assassinations.”
“There is a danger that the legal system can mark a person and frame him so that he cannot become a leader, which is why democracy allows the nation to say its word and vote for the people it thinks are morally innocent. The judiciary and the media wanted to get rid of the then-young and surprising yeshiva student Arye Deri, so he couldn’t continue his revolution,” Eichler theorized.
MK Ahmad Tibi (Joint List) said his faction planned to abstain in the vote, because they are against the government, but they appreciate Deri’s empathy.
“We expect to work with him to improve the lives of the Arab population, despite our disagreements,” he stated.
As interior minister, Deri will be responsible for implementing the government’s multi-billion shekel plan to help the Arab sector, due to his jurisdiction over municipalities.
MK Yousef Jabareen (Joint List) said “Arab towns desperately need industrial zones and approval of municipal plans that have been delayed for many years...I hope the new minister will make these issues his top priority.”
On Sunday, the cabinet unanimously approved Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s appointment of Deri.
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.
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.
The post of interior minister opened up after Silvan Shalom quit last month, amid allegations of sexual misconduct.
Gil Hoffman contributed to this report.