INTERIOR MINISTER Arye Deri at the Knesset.
(photo credit: MARC ISRAEL SELLEM/THE JERUSALEM POST)
After completing a three-year investigation, the Israel Police on Tuesday recommended that Shas Party Chairman and Interior Minister Arye Deri be indicted for fraud and breach of trust.
The recommendations came after the police found evidence against Deri for allegedly accepting funds from a businessman, as well as tax offenses amounting to millions of shekels, money laundering, disruption of court proceedings and making false statements to the Knesset about his assets.
If you’re feeling déjà vu, it’s because Deri resigned from the Interior Ministry in 1993 to face charges of accepting bribes. He went to prison in 2000 and served 22 months behind bars.
Deri returned to politics in 2012, reconquered the leadership of Shas, and was allowed to return to the exact position where he committed his past crimes, when Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu appointed him as Interior Minister again at the beginning of 2016.
Everyone is innocent until proven guilty – and that applies to Deri in this case as well.
However, allowing someone convicted and jailed for a crime he committed in the Interior Ministry to return to the scene of the crime is the height of chutzpah. It’s one thing to appoint him a minister; it’s another thing to let him back to the same place where he committed his original crimes.
Putting him in his old position was a bad decision on Netanyahu’s part. Deri replaced Silvan Shalom, who left politics amid accusations of sexual misconduct, which were eventually dropped by police. Deri was only given a minor portfolio – development of the Negev, Galilee and periphery – because he had resigned from the Economy Ministry months earlier over disagreements about the government’s natural gas deal.
But Deri wanted the Interior Ministry, a powerful role that granted him control over municipality budgets and the authority to block the passage of local ordinances. A different political deal could and should have been drawn.
The problem is not just that Deri was back in the Interior Ministry. The fact that Deri was allowed to become a minister at all, with his history of corruption convictions, is problematic.
The real culprit for this absurdity is a law that allows politicians convicted of crimes with moral turpitude to return to national politics seven years after their release from prison.
Regional Cooperation Minister Tzachi Hanegbi is back in the government after being convicted of perjury, although that was without moral turpitude. There is often talk of former prime minister Ehud Olmert returning to politics after he served time on corruption charges, which do carry moral turpitude.
This lacuna in the law must be plugged so that we have public representatives that Israelis deserve – people with integrity who put the public interest before lining their own pockets.
There are enough people in Israel who haven’t committed serious crimes who are intelligent, experienced and qualified to be among the country’s top leadership. Why are we leaving the option open for people who have been convicted of serious crimes to control billions of shekels of taxpayer money? Why are they the ones who should be deciding matters of life and death for Israeli citizens?
People who have committed a crime and paid the price for it should not be punished for life. But our ministers are meant to be people who are role models for society and who can be looked up to by the general public.
If there is a concern that an outright ban of people convicted of crimes with moral turpitude from entering politics is undemocratic, there are more moderate options that can be considered. Such politicians could be allowed in the Knesset while a ban could be put in place against appointing them as ministers.
The recidivism rate in Israel is 40%, which makes the likelihood of a corrupt politician picking up old habits when he or she settles back into the Knesset high enough that it is a serious threat to good governance.
We shouldn’t be taking that risk. The Knesset should change the law that allowed Deri back into the Interior Ministry. Israelis deserve politicians who are of the highest moral principles.
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