The political impact of the police’s recommendation to charge Interior Minister Arye Deri
with fraud and breach of trust depends on two things: How long the coalition will last, and how long it will take Attorney-General Avichai Mandelblit to decide whether or not to indict Deri.
So far, Mandelblit has taken several months to make decisions on indictments of major political figures, and there is no reason to think Deri will be different.
Meanwhile, the new, slimmer 61-seat coalition is showing signs of wear and tear after just one day in the Knesset. On Monday, it lost a vote in the plenum and then pulled most bills off of the agenda. On Tuesday, it started a game of chicken with Yisrael Beytenu over the death penalty bill the former coalition party wants to pass. These are not the signs of a coalition that has a lot of time left. This is a coalition whose days are numbered.
In all likelihood, despite Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s victorious declaration that the coalition will last another year, it will collapse long before November 2019, and before Mandelblit decides what to do with Deri’s case.
If Mandelblit indicts Deri and he is a minister – whether in this government or the next – he will have to resign or be fired from the cabinet, but not from the Knesset. The legal precedent for this comes from a High Court ruling about, funnily enough, Interior Minister Arye Deri, who resigned as interior minister in 1993 over corruption charges. Deri eventually served three years in prison beginning in 2000, forcing him out of politics for an additional seven years after the sentence under “moral turpitude” laws for convicted politicians.
Regardless of whether the attorney-general makes a decision before the next election, Deri will probably be able to use his legal woes to his electoral advantage.
Deri’s supporters supported him the last time he was on trial. Shas organized rallies with its top rabbis to praise Deri and slam the judiciary, claiming that people lied about him in court. They set up a yeshiva called Sha’agat Ha’Arye, the lion’s roar, outside the prison he was sent to. “Hu Zakai,” “He Is Innocent” by Shas-affiliated singer Benny Elbaz, with the chorus “he is innocent, he is innocent, my beloved Arye Deri, he is innocent,” became a pop hit. The undertone of these protests claimed that the establishment was out to get Deri because he is a Sephardi born in Morocco, because he is haredi (ultra-Orthodox), because he was successful in politics, or all of the above. The year before Deri went to prison, in 1999, Shas gained more seats than ever before or ever in its history – a whopping 17.
The party took a major electoral hit when its spiritual leader Rabbi Ovadia Yosef died in 2013. Maybe a generous dose of 1990s “Hu Zakai” spirit and grievance politics will help the party. Certainly the Likud’s support doesn’t seem to have been hurt by Netanyahu’s various investigations. In the cynical world of Israeli politics, an indictment might be just what Deri needs to get Shas’s numbers back up.