56% of Israelis think Smotrich, Deri unfit to serve as Defense Minister

A-G rules Deri unlikely to be able to serve as a minister in the coalition * Ben-Gvir to split his faction off from Smotrich's.

 Benjamin Netanyahu looks at Shas leader MK Aryeh Deri as they stand with other members of the new Israeli parliament after their swearing-in ceremony in Jerusalem November 15, 2022.  (photo credit: RONEN ZVULUN/REUTERS)
Benjamin Netanyahu looks at Shas leader MK Aryeh Deri as they stand with other members of the new Israeli parliament after their swearing-in ceremony in Jerusalem November 15, 2022.
(photo credit: RONEN ZVULUN/REUTERS)

71% of Israelis do not think that Shas leader MK Aryeh Deri is fit to serve as Finance Minister, and 56% think that neither he nor Religious Zionist Party leader MK Bezalel Smotrich are suitable to serve as Defense Minister, a Channel 12 poll showed on Friday night.

Deri is currently demanding the Finance Ministry in coalition negotiations, while Smotrich is demanding the Defense Ministry. Deri previously served 22 months in Maasiyahu Prison after he was convicted of bribery in 2000, during his tenure as Interior Minister. He also resigned from the last Knesset as part of a plea deal that saw him admit to minor tax offenses and pay a NIS 180,000 fine and a suspended prison sentence of one year.

Channel 12 also reported on Friday evening that Israeli Attorney-General Gali Baharav-Miara decided that Deri will not legally be permitted to serve as a minister if his conviction of tax offenses constituted moral turpitude, as is stated in Article 6 of Basic Law. Deri argued that this should not apply to suspended jail sentences, but Baharav-Miara reportedly rejected this argument.

Deri will thus only be allowed to serve as a minister if the Central Elections Committee head, High Court Justice Minister Yizhak Amit, rules that his actions did not constitute moral turpitude.

Shas MK Moshe Arbel submitted a bill to the Knesset Secretary on Thursday that would change the law so that it relates only to actual, and not suspended, jail sentences. This legislation would likely be challenged in the High Court. If the High Court deems it unconstitutional and strikes it down, the coalition may apply an Override Clause for the first time, if such a clause is legislated. 

 Shas party head Aryeh Deri speaks to supporters as the results of the Israeli elections are announced, in Jerusalem. November 1, 2022.  (credit: YOSSI ZAMIR/FLASH90) Shas party head Aryeh Deri speaks to supporters as the results of the Israeli elections are announced, in Jerusalem. November 1, 2022. (credit: YOSSI ZAMIR/FLASH90)

In a rare occurrence, Likud MK David Bitan attacked party leader MK Benjamin Netanyahu in an interview on Meet the Press on Saturday evening.

Netanyahu acted against Bitan, MK Yisrael Katz and MK David (Dudi) Amsalem in the Likud primary, and the three will be coordinated in their demands for jobs in the upcoming coalition, Bitan said.

"Just as Netanyahu went against me – I can go against him," Bitan said.

Bitan also criticized Netanyahu on his conduct during the negotiations. He argued that the fact that Netanyahu was willing to give up senior ministries such as Finance and Defense is the "worst possible method," Bitan said.

Netanyahu is reportedly considering appointing former ambassador to the US Ron Dermer as Foreign Minister, this is also unacceptable since Dermer was not part of the party during the election, Bitan said.

The Override Clause, which all four expected coalition parties support, would give the Knesset the power to override High Court rulings.

On Friday afternoon, Otzma Yehudit head MK Itamar Ben-Gvir announced his intention to split his Knesset faction from the Religious Zionist Party headed by MK Bezalel Smotrich.

The faction split comes in the midst of coalition negotiations with prime minister-designate Benjamin Netanyahu. The split is not a surprise nor a major development, since the two factions agreed to the split before merging. It does, however, slightly lower Smotrich's bargaining power in the negotiations, as he will now officially be the leader of a party with only seven seats, rather than of the second-largest party in a future coalition. Smotrich's negotiations with the Likud head have stalled due to the Religious Zionists head's demand to take up the Defense Ministry.

In the same statement announcing the split, Otzma Yehudit said its leader beseeched Netanyahu in a Friday phone call to agree to Smotrich's "legitimate demands," which Ben-Gvir said would help the incoming government fulfill its "fully right-wing" vision.

Ben-Gvir also reportedly spoke to Smotrich on Friday in an attempt to convince him to speak to Netanyahu and reboot the coalition negotiations, KAN reported. Ben-Gvir, however, reiterated his promise to the RZP leader not to enter a coalition without him.

Smotrich announced on Saturday night that he had cancelled his planned participation in a Habad conference in New York, suggesting that the talks may have turned a corner.

Channel 12 reported on Friday that the Likud had come up with a format for a compromise, in which Smotrich would not receive the Defense Ministry but would receive either a different important ministry such as Justice or Education, a position of "Minister within the Defense Ministry" who would be responsible for matters pertaining the West Bank, and another smaller ministry. Smotrich refused the offer, Channel 12 reported on Saturday night.

KAN reported on Saturday that the Likud passed on a different offer, in which Smotrich and Deri work out between them who will be Finance Minister, and that whatever they decided would be acceptable.

Liberman's assessment of Netanyahu's plans

Finance Minister Avigdor Liberman outlined on Facebook on Saturday night Netanyahu's seven-point plan the Likud leader intends to implement upon taking office. Liberman wrote that his assessment was based on "not a few senior Likud members and people close to Netanyahu," as well as his "knowledge of the man [Netanyahu]."

The seven points do not include the "obvious" – replacing the Knesset speaker, passing an Override Clause, passing a law to enable Deri to serve as a minister and some form of a French Law that blocs criminal investigations of a sitting prime minister, Liberman wrote.

According to Liberman, Netanyahu's plan was to gain a majority in the committee responsible for appointing judges; appoint someone especially loyal to him in order to "take control of every possible media outlet"; replace the Attorney General as soon as possible; replace the chosen IDF Chief of Staff by claiming that Halevi was not cooperating with Netanyahu's plans on Iran; eliminate Ben-Gvir's politically, and push him down to his "natural proportions"; and eliminate Smotrich politically, a step that never had "such broad consensus."

He also claimed that Netanyahu would formalize diplomatic relations with Saudi Arabia and use the achievement as leverage to change the coalition or go to an early election.

Liberman called these steps a "very well-grounded assessment."

The cabinet will convene at 11 a.m. on Sunday morning for what may be its final weekly meeting. The agenda includes a "summary of the 36th government's activity," as well as thanking the ministries' Director-Generals for their work.

The Knesset Arrangements Committee will convene at 1:00 p.m. on Sunday to approve Ben Gvir's request to break away from RZP, as well as a similar request by Noam MK Avi Maoz.

On Monday at 12:30 p.m. the Knesset's Interim Finance Committee will convene to vote to appoint United Torah Judaism MK Moshe Gafni as interim committee chairman.

Jerusalem Post Staff and Ma'ariv Online contributed to this report.