(photo credit: MARC ISRAEL SELLEM/THE JERUSALEM POST)
In a strictly legal sense, the ministers who voted unanimously on Sunday to appoint Shas Chairman Arye Deri as Interior Minister did nothing wrong.
They were following the letter of the law when they supported Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s choice of Deri to replace the disgraced Silvan Shalom.
Nothing in the law books prevents Deri from being appointed minister.
True, in 2000, after a drawn-out, five-year trial, the Jerusalem District Court found Deri guilty of taking $155,000 in bribes while serving as interior minister in the 1990s.
He appealed the decision and while some charges were dropped, the appellate court found that Deri had received an additional $60,000, free vacations abroad, a free one-night visit to a Jerusalem hotel and another unknown sum of money that was deposited in a friend’s bank accounts.
Deri was sentenced to three years’ incarceration; he served 22 months in Ma’asiyahu Prison, getting out early for good behavior.
Upon his release, however, Deri was prosecuted in another case. The Jerusalem Magistrate’s Court found him guilty of violating public trust when he worked to transfer NIS 400,000 of public funds to an institution in the capital’s Har Nof neighborhood that his brother Yehuda headed. In the first case, but not the second, the court ruled that Deri’s offenses carried with them moral turpitude.
According to Israeli law, these crimes do not disqualify a person from public service indefinitely. The Basic Law: Knesset sets a seven-year ban that begins immediately upon release from jail. More than seven years have passed since Deri’s release. Therefore, there is no legal restriction on appointing him interior minister.
Nevertheless, politicians as leaders and representatives of the peoples should be bound by more than the strict letter of the law. How many of us would trust a convicted felon to watch over our hard-earned savings? Politicians are responsible, among other things, for faithfully and honestly allocating taxpayers’ money.
Appointing a man who has already stumbled to the same public position he abused shows a callous disregard for the public’s trust in its elected officials.
The High Court of Justice will likely be petitioned to overturn Sunday’s cabinet decision. The court has been asked to overturn such decisions before. Sometimes it has done so.
There is a fundamental dispute among the justices regarding intervening in political appointments. Over the past two decades most of them have been of the opinion that some political appointments can be defined as “highly unreasonable,” and that the court can therefore annul them. Former Shin Bet (Israel Security Agency) official Yossi Ginosar’s involvement in the 1984 Bus 300 affair disqualified him, according to the court, from serving as director-general of a government ministry.
Former court president Asher D. Grunis, however, was of a different opinion. He believed that except in extreme cases, the court should not interfere with public service appointments, even when such an appointment undermines the public’s trust in its elected officials. Grunis was apparently concerned that too much judicial activism would undermine the legislative branch.
We share this concern. We therefore believe that legislation should be passed to prevent situations in which convicted criminals who committed crimes as politicians are appointed to high level ministerial and administrative positions.
In a few years, disgraced politicians such as Avraham Hirchson and Ehud Olmert might try to make political comebacks such as the one Deri successfully carried out. Should the law allow it? We think it shouldn’t. Yesh Atid chairman Yair Lapid drafted a bill in last May that would mandate what should be obvious: “A person convicted of a crime that carries with it moral turpitude cannot serve as a Knesset member, a minister or a mayor.”
Of course such legislation would be superfluous if the prime minister and the members of his cabinet had a more refined moral compass. But in its absence legislation will suffice.