Shas MK warned Israel will have 'no government' before Deri ruling

Shas MK Ya'acov Margi said he would recommend Shas's Council of Torah Sages dismantle Israel's government if Arye Deri can't be a minister.

Shas party members t arrives for a court hearing on petitions demanding the annulment of the appointment of Shas leader Arye Deri as a government minister due to his recent conviction on tax offenses at the Supreme Court in Jerusalem, on January 05, 2023. (photo credit: YONATAN SINDEL/FLASH90)
Shas party members t arrives for a court hearing on petitions demanding the annulment of the appointment of Shas leader Arye Deri as a government minister due to his recent conviction on tax offenses at the Supreme Court in Jerusalem, on January 05, 2023.
(photo credit: YONATAN SINDEL/FLASH90)

There will be "no government" if the High Court of Justice rules to disqualify Shas chairman Arye Deri's appointment as interior and health minister, Welfare and Social Affairs Minister MK Ya'acov Margi said in an interview on KAN Radio.

Margi clarified that he meant that he would recommend to Shas' Council of Torah Sages to order the party to dismantle the government if Deri is barred from serving as a minister.

Shas MK Avraham Bezalel said yesterday during an interview on Knesset TV on Tuesday that the High Court would be "shooting itself in the head" if it rules to disqualify Deri.

“I think that at the end of the day, if the judges disqualify him, they are shooting themselves – even in the head. No less,” Bezalel said. “They know the sensitivity of the issue. They understand where the public is, and you know the protests and things happening in the streets in light of this whole situation.”

He later backtracked, saying his comments “were not understood properly” and that he was “regretful” about them.

 Arye Deri seen outside his home in Jerusalem on January 18, 2023 (credit: YONATAN SINDEL/FLASH90) Arye Deri seen outside his home in Jerusalem on January 18, 2023 (credit: YONATAN SINDEL/FLASH90)

“As someone who believes in public trust in the court system, my intention was that if the High Court cancels the votes of over 400,000 people, this trust will be severely harmed,” Bezalel said.

His comments came after a number of other Shas MKs attacked the High Court this week in media interviews, in what seems to be a coordinated and not-so-subtle threat that the Knesset would respond to a ruling against Deri by curbing the High Court’s powers.

“The court does not miss the opportunity to shoot itself in the foot,” Welfare and Social Affairs Minister MK Ya’acov Margi said Monday on Radio Kol Hai. “A decision against Minister Deri will constitute severe damage to the choice of hundreds of thousands of voters. If the court wants to use the ‘legal unreasonableness’ clause, the issue will be brought before the prime minister and [the clause] will be canceled. Is it not ‘reasonable’ in the eyes of the judges that 400,000 voted for Shas?”

“A decision against Minister Deri will constitute severe damage to the choice of hundreds of thousands of voters. If the court wants to use the ‘legal unreasonableness’ clause, the issue will be brought before the prime minister and [the clause] will be canceled. Is it not ‘reasonable’ in the eyes of the judges that 400,000 voted for Shas?”

Ya'acov Margi

Margi added that, “if desired, the legal unreasonableness clause can be canceled in 72 hours, and then the judges will not have the ability to cancel [Deri’s appointment]. I hope the judges act wisely and do not disqualify Deri.”

Deputy Health Minister and Deputy Interior Minister MK Moshe Arbel, as well as MK Uriel Busso, both Shas members, said they expected the court to block the appointment.

“Did you hear [High Court Chief Justice Esther] Hayut’s political speech last week? Do you not understand which way the wind is blowing?” Busso asked on Radio Kol Barama.

Busso was referring to a speech at the annual convention of the Israeli Association of Public Law on Thursday, in which Hayut warned that the government’s planned judicial reform would “crush” the judicial system, and constituted “an unbridled attack on the judicial system, as if it were an enemy that must be attacked and subdued.”

Israel's High Court challenges Deri's appointment as minister

THE COURT addressed these arguments in a January 5 hearing on the matter. The justices challenged the claim that the election justified Deri’s appointment on two fronts: First, votes, however numerous, cannot erase the consequences of criminal activity. Second, the people elect representatives to the Knesset, not the government. The prime minister is the one who appoints the ministers. Therefore, while the 400,000 votes for Deri indeed make him eligible to serve as an MK, they did not automatically justify his nomination as minister.

The MKs referred mostly to the option that Deri’s appointment would be canceled due to its “extreme unreasonableness” because of his recurring criminal convictions on corruption and tax charges. The most recent conviction was in January of last year, when Deri received a suspended one-year jail sentence after pleading guilty as part of a plea agreement to making false tax declarations.

Deri mislead High Court in plea deal: Pledge not to rejoin politics only applied to previous Knesset, gov't

However, two other arguments were presented to the court during the January 5 hearing. The first was that Deri misled the court in order to receive the plea agreement by pledging he would not rejoin politics. He claimed in his defense that his pledge did not extend into the new Knesset and government, but only applied during the previous ones.

The second was that the Knesset abused its constitutional powers when at the end of December it amended a Basic Law so that Deri would not have to consult with the Central Election Committee chairman on whether or not his actions constituted moral turpitude.

The law was changed so that this only applied to actual jail sentences, not suspended ones. If the court rules that the change did not apply to Deri, he would need to face the CEC head’s ruling. If the chairman rules that Deri’s actions included moral turpitude, he will be barred from serving as a minister for seven years.

According to a number of media reports, Deri has said in closed discussions that regardless of the court’s decision, he would not resign. This means that Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu will need to decide whether to abide by the High Court’s decision and fire Deri, or ignore the ruling, which would lead to a constitutional crisis. 

The law was changed so that this only applied to actual – and not suspended – jail sentences. If the court rules that the change did not apply to Deri, he will need to face the CEC head's ruling. If the ruling is that Deri's actions included moral turpitude, he will be barred from serving as a minister for seven years.

Deri himself said in closed discussions that irrespective of the court's decision, he would not resign, according to a number of media reports. This means that Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu will need to decide whether to abide by the High Court's decision and fire Deri, or ignore the ruling, which would lead to a constitutional crisis.