End of democracy warnings are 'false propaganda campaign' - Netanyahu

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and other coalition heads blasted the High Court of Justice ruling on Arye Deri at a special press conference

 Arye Deri and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, attend  a Shas Party faction meeting, at the Knesset, the Israeli parliament in Jerusalem, on January 23, 2023. (photo credit: YONATAN SINDEL/FLASH90)
Arye Deri and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, attend a Shas Party faction meeting, at the Knesset, the Israeli parliament in Jerusalem, on January 23, 2023.
(photo credit: YONATAN SINDEL/FLASH90)

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, Shas chairman MK Arye Deri, and other coalition party leaders and Knesset members blasted the High Court of Justice in a long press conference on Monday, over its ruling on Wednesday that Deri was not fit to serve as a minister.

The tightly choreographed conference, which was held under the banner "Movement leader Rabbi Arye Deri – Be Strong and Courageous!", was a public show of support for Deri and an attempt to rally around Justice Minister Yariv Levin's planned judicial reforms.

Over six ministers and MKs from the Likud spoke first in support of Deri and against the High Court ruling. All of Shas' ministers and Knesset members attended the conference, as did many other MKs from the Likud and from United Torah Judaism (UTJ).

Netanyahu slams High Court's "mistaken" ruling on Arye Deri

Netanyahu, who spoke towards the end of the conference, called the ruling "mistaken" and unjust, and stressed that he will do all he can to keep Deri as close to the cabinet's table as possible.

The prime minister accused all of the media except for Channel 14 of running a "false propaganda" campaign against his government that tried to argue that the judicial reforms were "the end of democracy". The truth, however, was that in the past few decades, the balance of power in Israel had been upset in favor of the judicial system, and his government was merely returning the situation to what it was during the first 50 years of Israel's existence, the prime minister added.

 Arye Deri speaks at a Shas Party faction meeting, at the Knesset, the Israeli parliament in Jerusalem, on January 23, 2023. (credit: YONATAN SINDEL/FLASH90) Arye Deri speaks at a Shas Party faction meeting, at the Knesset, the Israeli parliament in Jerusalem, on January 23, 2023. (credit: YONATAN SINDEL/FLASH90)

The propaganda against him stemmed either from ignorance or was an intentional falsification, he added.

Deri himself argued that the ruling ignored the fact that a 63-member majority voted to approve the government, and therefore the High Court's ruling did not just cancel Netanyahu's decision to appoint him as health and interior minister, it also canceled that of the Knesset majority and its constituents, the people.

A place where the court decides who in its opinion is worthy of serving as a minister is a place "that can be called a lot of names, but not democracy. The rule of the judge is not the rule of law," Deri said.

Shas announced soon after the conference that Religious Services Minister MK Michael Malkieli will replace Deri as interior minister, and Minister within the Education Ministry MK Haim Biton will also replace Deri as health minister.

Yesh Atid said in response, "No one disqualified Deri out of political interest. He was convicted in court, and then convicted again. Do the Likud's MKs not know how to differ between politics and criminals?"

National Unity MK and previous justice minister Gideon Sa'ar said, "The day after Deri was fired from the cabinet, the Shas faction meeting became an embarrassing and shameful show of de-legitimization of a ruling by the High Court of Justice. At stake: A new shady plan to violate the ruling and appoint Deri. This is exactly the essence of the Netanyahu-Deri legal 'reform': changing the form of government for their personal interests."

Lapid proposes apolitical committee to fix and improve Israeli judicial system

Opposition leader MK Yair Lapid said in a statement to the press ahead of his Yesh Atid Party's weekly meeting on Monday that he had proposed to President Isaac Herzog that the president form a "real, balanced and stable" apolitical committee to "fix and improve" the judicial system, as well as "regulate the relations between the judicial branch and the executive branch."

Instead of the "wild galloping" of the current government, such a committee would be able to hear all sides, including the courts, the government, the opposition and academics, and carry out an orderly process that will come up with a better proposal than the current one, Lapid added.

The president was considering the offer, and Lapid concluded that he hoped the committee would form "in order to prevent a terrible split in the nation of Israel and the destruction of our democracy."

The proposal was the first in which Lapid was willing to compromise, and Labor leader MK Merav Michaeli criticized this.

"I am very worried by the voices that Gantz and Lapid are voicing. These are exactly the voices that our protestors oppose. These are exactly the voices that could force their hand and may cause them to stay home."

Merav Michaeli

"I am very worried by the voices that Gantz and Lapid are voicing. These are exactly the voices that our protestors oppose. These are exactly the voices that could force their hand and may cause them to stay home," she said.

"200,000 protestors do not want an apolitical committee, they do not want to bargain with the defendant, and they are right.

"To make offers to Netanyahu, no matter if directly or through some kind of mediator, is to surrender to him," Michaeli added.

The Labor leader added that her party would continue to "lead the marches" of protestors and would not negotiate or compromise with a "criminal defendant."

Yisrael Beytenu chairman MK Avigdor Liberman also criticized Lapid.

Liberman wrote on Twitter "I call on the heads of the coalition: Wake up! You cannot arrive at any compromise regarding judicial reform. You say that the government wants to bring us to a 100% dictatorship, so what compromise do you want? 50% dictatorship?!"

Lapid later responded to the criticism in a post on Facebook. The former prime minister argued that his option was the opposite of compromising with the government. Rather, the idea was to take the issue out of the government's hands, and hand them over to an apolitical body who would "see as its duty the safeguarding of the separation of branches and the independence of the courts and the rule of law."