It was within the Knesset’s rights to pass the amendment to the Basic Laws that would allow for Shas chairman Arye Deri to serve as a minister despite his criminal convictions, and the High Court of Justice has no authority over the Basic Laws themselves, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s legal team said in a court filing Tuesday evening. The High Court is scheduled to hold a hearing on three petitions against the so-called Deri Law on Thursday.
In their response to the petitions, the Netanyahu team based its argument on the separation of powers and the unique roles of the Knesset and High Court. The High Court engages in judicial review when a law is in contradiction with the quasi-constitutional Basic Laws, and it does not have the powers to review the Basic Laws themselves, the government said.
The response to the petitions asserted there was therefore no place for the “irregular” intervention of the High Court in the basic legislative abilities of the Knesset, which has the constitutive authority to enact Basic Laws. The amendment was in line with the basic constitutional principles of the State of Israel, with no reason to justify judicial intervention to strike down the law, the government said.
In its answer to the High Court, the Knesset legal team argued that reasons such as an abuse of power or the legislation targeting one person did not occur. The law itself was not personal and would apply to future ministerial appointments, it said. Simply because legislation is triggered by a private case does not transform a general law into a personal law, it added.
“With all due respect, the honorable court lacks the authority to order cancellation of such fundamental legislation,” Netanyahu's team said.
“With all due respect, the honorable court lacks the authority to order cancellation of such fundamental legislation.”Benjamin Netanyahu's team
Deri’s team submitted its own position earlier Tuesday, requesting that the petitions that would prevent him from serving as interior and health minister be rejected. Deri argued that the 400,000 citizens who voted for him should be taken into consideration over the petitioners. The team also said if the court decided that the Shas chairman was ineligible to be a minister, then it would be interfering with the right of the prime minister to make appointments.
Deri received a suspended prison sentence as part of a January 2022 plea-bargain agreement after he was convicted for tax offenses. The deal also included a clause that stipulated Deri would no longer engage in public affairs.
In its petition response on Tuesday, Shas argued that Deri had made no such commitment. It also said there was no such understanding that the bargain would result in Deri’s inadmissibility into the government.
According to Basic Law: The Government, an Israeli citizen who has been given a prison sentence cannot serve as an MK or as a cabinet minister for seven years.
In December, the Deri Law was passed, which amended the Basic Law to allow for those with suspended sentences to be exempt from the restriction.
Attorney-General Gali Baharav-Miara is expected to give her position on the matter on Wednesday after a court decision to allow her more time. Baharav-Miara will object to the appointment of Deri due to his past criminal convictions, but she will not oppose the amendment to the Basic Law, according to Israeli media reports.
There is said to be much tension between Baharav-Miara’s office and the government.
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Additionally, Netanyahu’s corruption trial is set to resume next Monday. On Sunday, the NGO Movement for Quality Government petitioned the High Court for a new arrangement on conflict of interest that would restrict prime ministerial powers that could impact his trial. This arrangement, which would succeed a similar 2020 deal, would limit Netanyahu’s ability to be involved in legal and law-enforcement appointments and seek legislation that would restrict the High Court.
On Tuesday morning, Baharav-Miara did not attend the cabinet meeting for the second week in a row, but officials said it was not unusual, as she only attends meetings if necessary, Walla reported.
Baharav-Miara did meet with both Justice Minister Yariv Levin and Netanyahu this week, despite the Movement for Quality Government also petitioning the High Court for an interim injunction to prevent the prime minister from meeting with her.
Eliav Breuer contributed to this report.