How will Netanyahu respond to the Deri ruling? - analysis

It is safe to presume that if Deri does not resign, Netanyahu will fire him, as the High Court ruled. Netanyahu can then follow one of three avenues:

 Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu speaks with Interior and Health Minister Aryeh Deri at a weekly cabinet meeting at the Prime Minister's office in Jerusalem, January 8, 2023 (photo credit: REUTERS/Ronen Zvulun/Pool)
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu speaks with Interior and Health Minister Aryeh Deri at a weekly cabinet meeting at the Prime Minister's office in Jerusalem, January 8, 2023
(photo credit: REUTERS/Ronen Zvulun/Pool)

It took Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu nearly two months to put together his government, and three weeks after its inception it is already in limbo.

How will the prime minister respond?

It is safe to presume that if Deri does not resign, Netanyahu will fire him, as the High Court ruled. Failing to do so would launch a constitutional crisis and add fuel to public discontent over his government's judicial reforms. Netanyahu may drag his feet a little, but this likely will not change the result.

Netanyahu can then follow one of three avenues.

The first is to direct the coalition to drop all legislation in order to pass as fast as possible a law to cancel the "Unreasonableness Clause," which the court used to disqualify Deri. He could then reappoint Deri to the same positions he currently holds. However, the judges mentioned other problems with the appointment other than its unreasonableness and therefore could strike down the appointment permanently.

The second is to enable Deri to choose replacements for Interior and Health ministers, such as one of the other members of Shas including Moshe Arbel, who is deputy Interior and deputy Health minister.

 SHAS PARTY head Arye Deri speaks to supporters as projected results from the Knesset election are announced, in Jerusalem, on November 1. (credit: YOSSI ZAMIR/FLASH90) SHAS PARTY head Arye Deri speaks to supporters as projected results from the Knesset election are announced, in Jerusalem, on November 1. (credit: YOSSI ZAMIR/FLASH90)

The third is that the coalition will bring forward next week a "constructive no confidence vote" in the government, and instead form a rotational government with Deri as Alternate Prime Minister. A "constructive no-confidence vote" is a no-confidence vote, usually brought forward by the opposition, whose purpose is not to bring down the government and head to an election, but rather bring down the government and replace it with a new one. An Alternate Prime Minister is legally considered a second prime minister, which, contrary to a regular minister, the High Court cannot disqualify.

There is a fourth scenario, in which the Shas Council of Torah Sages rules that Shas must leave the government. This may not lead immediately to a new election, because the party could still give its confidence in the government, but the government itself would then be a minority government and likely would be unstable.

Welfare and Social Affairs Minister MK Ya'acov Margi hinted in this direction, saying on KAN Radio on Wednesday morning prior to the ruling that there would be "no government" if Deri is disqualified. Margi clarified soon after that what he meant was 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.

However, it is hard to believe that the party or its spiritual leaders would collapse a fully right-wing government and risk losing power, and Deri himself may even oppose this.

The Council put out a statement on Wednesday evening that indicated that indeed this scenario was not likely. The sages said they were "astounded" by the High Court's decision, which they wrote testified to "injustice and obtuseness that erases the identity of the masses of the people of Israel." The sages mentioned deceased Shas spiritual leaders' trust in Deri, chiefly among them Rabbi Ovadia Yosef, and called on Deri to continue leading Shas "with strength and valor".