'Deri Law,' 'Override Law' pass preliminary reading on Knesset floor

Parliament okays a number of controversial laws in voting marathon

 ARYE DERI, head of the Shas Party, leads a faction meeting in the Knesset this week. (photo credit: YONATAN SINDEL/FLASH90)
ARYE DERI, head of the Shas Party, leads a faction meeting in the Knesset this week.
(photo credit: YONATAN SINDEL/FLASH90)

The preliminary reading of a law that will block the High Court from intervening in the appointments of ministers, widely known as the “Deri Law,” after Shas chairman Arye Deri, was approved on the Knesset floor on Wednesday during a marathon voting session, marking another step forward in the controversial bill’s legislative process.

What is the law's purpose?

The law’s purpose is to enable Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to reinstate Deri after the High Court ruled last month that Deri’s appointments as health and interior minister suffered from “extreme unreasonableness” both due to his recurring white-collar criminal convictions, the last of which came as part of a plea bargain in January 2022, and because Deri earned his lenient plea bargain by fooling the court that he would not reenter politics.

The bill’s supporters argue that the High Court’s ruling was an improper intervention into political decisions, and that the court had no authority to intervene in the “reasonableness” of ministerial appointments. They also argued that Deri did not fool the courts because he never pledged that he would quit politics for good.

The opposition argued that the bill was a disgrace, as it amounted to a semi-constitutional amendment so that a repeat criminal could become a minister.

 Shas leader MK Aryeh Deri and Israeli prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu seen during a Shas party meeting, at the Knesset, the Israeli parliament in Jerusalem, on January 23, 2023. (credit: YONATAN SINDEL/FLASH90) Shas leader MK Aryeh Deri and Israeli prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu seen during a Shas party meeting, at the Knesset, the Israeli parliament in Jerusalem, on January 23, 2023. (credit: YONATAN SINDEL/FLASH90)

The Deri Law is also linked to the coalition’s proposed legal reforms. One of the reform’s provisions, which passed its first reading early Tuesday morning, is that the High Court cannot strike down amendments to Basic Laws. The coalition will likely pass this law first – and then the High Court will not be able to hear appeals against the Deri Law, which, as mentioned above, is an amendment to a Basic Law.

Many other bills reached preliminary voting in Wednesday’s plenum, including one that was an important part of the judicial reform – the “Override Law,” proposed by Knesset Constitution, Law and Justice chairman MK Simcha Rothman.

The law determines that the High Court has the power to strike down laws that violate Basic Laws – but only by a unanimous vote of all of the court’s members. Moreover, the law gives 61 MKs or more the power to make laws “immune” to judicial review in the first place, even if they contradict basic laws.

This law is very similar to one to Rothman’s committee-initiated bill that his committee is currently debating. The coalition will likely either proceed with Rothman’s private bill or combine the two, a source in the Likud said.

The Knesset session involved high-volume shouting between the coalition and the opposition. Knesset members from Yesh Atid, National Unity and Labor accused the coalition of destroying Israeli democracy.

Rothman responded by accusing Lapid of running a “BDS campaign” against the state, and Likud MK Hanoch Milwidsky shouted at Lapid that he was “an inciter and seditionist.”

The second judicial reform-related bill to reach the Knesset floor on Wednesday was Likud MK Moshe Saada’s proposal to remove the Police Investigations Unit, which hears appeals against police officers, from the State’s Attorney’s Office, and instead subjugate it directly to the justice minister.

In addition, the bill posits that the unit will be able to investigate attorneys from the state’s attorney’s office, and not just police officers.

Saada presented the bill and argued that the unit had an inherent conflict of interest, as the police worked closely with the State’s Attorney’s Office, and therefore attorneys may have an interest to prevent investigations into specific police officers.

Saada, who served as the unit’s deputy commander, said he witnessed first-hand how some cases against senior police officers were thwarted due to intervention from the State Attorney’s Office.

The bill’s detractors argued that this move will damage the state’s ability to take action against police officers who abused the power – but, perhaps more importantly, it opens the door for politically-motivated investigations of attorneys, including, hypothetically, those that are representing the state in Netanyahu’s ongoing corruption trials.

Labor MK Gilad Kariv commented during Saada’s presentation that the correct plan of action would be to subjugate the unit to the oversight of a judge, and not of the justice minister, who could use the unit to his advantage.

A number of additional controversial laws passed the Knesset’s preliminary reading on Wednesday, including the “Hametz Law” to prohibit hametz in hospitals on Passover and the “Rabbinical Courts Law,” which would broaden the jurisdiction of religious courts.

The “Hametz Law,” proposed by UTJ MKs Moshe Gafni, Yakov Asher and Yitzhak Pindrus, makes it illegal for hospitals to enter or hold hametz (leavened bread) during Passover and authorizes hospital directors to appoint someone to enforce this. The law would not apply to hospitals that do not define themselves as being kosher.

The issue of hametz in hospitals is an issue that has come up every year in recent years. It even served as the official trigger for then-Yamina MK and current Environmental Protection Minister Idit Silman to quit the previous coalition last April, a move that cost it its majority and destabilized the government, which fell two months later.

Then-health minister Nitzan Horowitz prohibited hospital directors from checking for hametz at the entrance in line with a High Court ruling on the matter, and Silman left the coalition in protest.

The law to broaden the jurisdiction of religious courts was proposed by UTJ MKs Gafni Asher and Uri Maklev, as well as Shas MK Yinon Azoulay. It gives religious courts the power to serve as arbitrators in civil cases if both sides agree to this and serves as an expansion of religious courts’ current jurisdiction over marital status, burial and conversion.