Two bills that were designed for the personal benefit of Shas chairman MK Arye Deri advanced on Tuesday.
The first bill is to postpone the election for the country's Ashkenazi and Sephardi chief rabbis and the Chief Rabbinate Council by approximately eight months, from July (chief rabbis) and August (rabbinical council) 2023, to April and June 2024, respectively.
The bill passed into law early on Tuesday morning after an opposition filibuster that lasted through the night.
The widely believed reason for the delay is that Shas chairman MK Arye Deri wants more time to ensure that his ally, Rabbi David Yosef, and his brother, current chief rabbi of Beersheba Yehuda Deri, will occupy the positions of Sephardi chief rabbi and chief rabbi of Jerusalem. Current Jerusalem Chief Rabbi Shlomo Amar's tenure only ends at the end of 2023, and Deri demanded the delay in order not to decide at the moment which would receive each position.
The issue became more complex after the Otzma Yehudit party reportedly conditioned its support on party member Heritage Minister Amichai Eliyahu's father, Chief Rabbi of Safed Shmuel Eliyahu, being elected as chief rabbi of Jerusalem. Eliyahu denied the report, but it was corroborated by two different sources.
Shas' official argument in favor of the bill is that the 150-member committee that elects the chief rabbis and Chief Rabbinate Council includes representatives from 35 local authorities – and the upcoming municipal election means that the people voting will soon not be in power. The delay to 2024 would enable the officials elected in October to have a voice in who will serve as Chief Rabbi and on the Chief Rabbinate Council.
The Tiberius Law
The second bill, known as the Tiberias Law, is one that would enable a Deri ally named Boaz Yosef, who is currently the caretaker mayor of Tiberias, to run for mayor in the upcoming municipal election on October 31.
Yosef was appointed caretaker mayor of Tiberias after Mayor Ron Koby was forced out of the job in January 2020 after failing to pass a municipal budget the year before. Koby, who is running for reelection, is secular, and during his short tenure as mayor he attempted to advance a secular agenda, including public transportation on Sabbath. This angered the city's large haredi population – many of whom are Sephardic, and part of Shas' voter base.
According to existing law, the caretaker mayor, who is not an elected representative, cannot run immediately for a municipal election, and must have a cooling off period of one municipal tenure (five years) before he can run. The law's idea is that a caretaker mayor is appointed by the interior minister and unelected, and therefore should not enjoy the advantage of running for reelection while in power.
The new law allows caretaker mayors to run immediately. The only municipality where the law would apply is Tiberias.
Earlier this week, another Tiberias mayoral candidate, Shani Illuz, revealed that she had been offered a number of jobs in exchange for dropping out of the race, in order to give Yosef a better chance to win. Opposition MKs claimed that this could be a criminal offense and demanded an investigation.
The Tiberias Bill was on the agenda for Tuesday's plenum session and is likely to pass into law overnight after another filibuster.
Deri is no stranger to bills that are meant for his own personal benefit.
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu fired Deri in January from his position as health minister and interior minister after the Supreme Court ruled that the appointment had been "extremely unreasonable" due both to his recurring criminal convictions and for misleading the court to believe in his most recent conviction in 2022 that he would not return to politics.
Attempts to reappoint Deri
The sole judicial reform bill that is advancing in the Knesset is to cancel the reasonableness standard. This could enable Netanyahu to reappoint Deri, with the court not having the same ability to strike down the appointment.
The coalition tried unsuccessfully in March to pass the "Deri Law II," which was a more limited version of the Reasonableness Standard bill, and designed to enable him to be reappointed.
The coalition passed "Deri Law I" in December. The bill enabled the Shas chairman to avoid a ruling over whether his recent conviction included moral turpitude, which would have expelled him from politics for seven years. The coalition did this by changing the law so that only convicts who received physical jail sentences need to pass the moral turpitude hurdle. Deri's conviction only included probation, and therefore the law change allowed him to skip the hurdle.