Deri Law is 'state-sanctioned corruption,' MKs argue

The four controversial laws are preconditions for Netanyahu to form a government • Sa'ar: Bills are "highway robbery"

 MK Itamar Ben Gvir speaks with MK Aryeh Deri during a vote for the new Knesset speaker at the assembly hall of the Knesset, the Israeli parliament in Jerusalem, on December 13, 2022.  (photo credit: YONATAN SINDEL/FLASH90)
MK Itamar Ben Gvir speaks with MK Aryeh Deri during a vote for the new Knesset speaker at the assembly hall of the Knesset, the Israeli parliament in Jerusalem, on December 13, 2022.
(photo credit: YONATAN SINDEL/FLASH90)

The Deri Law, which aims to enable Shas chairman Arye Deri to serve as a minister despite his conviction for tax offenses in January, was debated fiercely in the Knesset on Wednesday. Its supporters said the conviction would unfairly block Deri, while its detractors said the law would be “state-sanctioned corruption.”

Deri in January agreed to a plea-bargain agreement in which he was convicted and sentenced to suspended jail time. He immediately resigned from the Knesset before the court could rule whether his actions constituted moral turpitude, which would have barred him from serving as a minister for seven years.

A decision regarding moral turpitude is supposed to be decided by the Central Elections Committee chairman, High Court Justice Yitzhak Amit. However, the incoming coalition wants to block the decision from reaching Amit by changing the law so that it only applies to actual, and not suspended, jail sentences.

The plea bargain included a clause in which the judges wrote that Deri would no longer engage in public affairs. But this clause only applied to the previous Knesset, Shas MKs said, adding that the election showed that Israel’s citizens want him back.

The law was debated in an ad-hoc special Knesset committee that was formed specially for this purpose.

 Religious Zionist Party head Bezalel Smotrich is seen after coalition meetings in Jerusalem, on December 5, 2022. (credit: YONATAN SINDEL/FLASH90) Religious Zionist Party head Bezalel Smotrich is seen after coalition meetings in Jerusalem, on December 5, 2022. (credit: YONATAN SINDEL/FLASH90)

A debate erupted between incoming coalition and opposition members

“It is impossible to ignore the irregularity of the law – not only in the timing of the amendment on the eve of the formation of the government but in the constitutional umbrella in which it deals, the purity of the morals of the government ministers and the clear understanding of who it is intended to apply to,” Deputy Attorney-General Avital Sompolinski said.

The law thus had a “significant personal element that makes it hard for the committee to debate it behind a veil of ignorance [as if it is not personal],” she said.

The committee’s legal adviser, attorney Gur Bley, said a potential solution could be to include a clause that the law would only apply from the next Knesset onward.

Shas MK Moshe Arbel, who authored the proposed law, said Deri’s case was “a plea agreement that spoke clearly and unequivocally about a tax offense of the lowest degree, which was not intended to defraud the tax authorities… I have no doubt that if it had been brought to the chairman of the Central Elections Committee, if he had the authority, he would not have determined that it constituted moral turpitude.”

The soon-to-be opposition argued that the law’s intention was a personal law to enable Deri to escape the implications of the ruling. Labor MK Gilad Kariv said the law could eventually end up affecting Prime Minister-designate Benjamin Netanyahu as well and enable him to continue serving as a minister after a potential future plea bargain.

Outgoing Transportation Minister Merav Michaeli, the Labor Party chairwoman, said earlier on Wednesday regarding the law: “We see the ‘take and take’ that is going on today between Netanyahu and his partners. We see how they put a kosher stamp on corruption, making it absolutely kosher. There is a range of kosher certifications for a range of corruption, and they are undermining the basis of the existence of the State of Israel.”

Yesh Atid MK Yorai Lahav Hertzanu said the law was “state-sanctioned corruption.”

The Deri Law is one of four that the incoming coalition is attempting to pass before Netanyahu’s mandate to form a government ends next Wednesday, December 21.

What are the four laws?

The four laws are:

  • An amendment of the Police Law, so that incoming national security minister and Otzma Yehudit chairman MK Itamar Ben-Gvir receives broader control over the police.

Three amendments of Basic Laws, two of Basic Law: The Government and one of Basic Law: The Knesset, that will:

  • Enable Shas chairman MK Aryeh Deri to serve as a minister despite his suspended jail sentence following a January plea bargain to tax offenses.
  • Enable RZP chairman MK Bezalel Smotrich to serve as a minister within the defense ministry
  • Cancel the current law that enables four MKs to break away from an existing party.

The Deri and Smotrich laws were combined into one law late Wednesday evening, and at press time, the debate in the committee preparing it for its first reading in the plenum was still ongoing.

The law that enables four MKs to break away from an existing party was enacted by the previous Knesset in an attempt to tempt members of the Likud to break away from their party.

The previous law, which will now apply again, is that a third of the party is necessary to break away and create a new party. This would mean 10 MKs from the Likud, which is not likely.

The law was debated in the Finance Committee and passed the vote to bring it to the plenum for its first reading.

“In the previous Knesset, there was a political attempt by the previous coalition to harm the unity of the coalition,” Likud MK Yoav Kisch said.

“They thought they could split the Likud and defined an ability to split the major factions,” he said. “This thing is all about political subversion. This bill is relevant to Likud and Yesh Atid. The correction was made unjustly and it needs to be corrected… It gives a message of the beginning of a new Knesset.”

Education Minister Yifat Shasha-Biton (National Unity) said: “This law is the result of Netanyahu’s paranoia. He became a hostage of his accomplices, and the members of the Knesset became his hostages. He knows that it will fall apart, because some of the MKs will see that they have nothing left and will defect. That is why he is legislating it before a government is formed – to prevent the dismantling of what he is trying to establish here. This is survival season.”

Regarding Deri, she said, “We are lowering the bar of morality needed to be a minister in Israel, and all because of Netanyahu’s personal survival. Pressure is what rules here. As Netanyahu once said, ‘You are afraid.’”