Advisers unsure on Benizri's replacement

Will the new MK be an Ethiopian, a convict or an Indian?

Benizri 224.88 (photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski )
Benizri 224.88
(photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski )
Who entered the Knesset at 3 p.m. local time on Sunday when Shas MK Shlomo Benizri was automatically suspended upon receiving a prison sentence involving moral turpitude? At first it seemed that it was the next name on the Shas list, Ethiopian-born Rabbi Mazor Bayana of Beersheba. But Knesset legal officials found a bylaw on Sunday that would seemingly prevent him from entering the Knesset. The legal officials said that Bayana's candidacy for the Knesset should have been disqualified, because he was then - as he is now - serving as a neighborhood rabbi in Beersheba, which is considered a civil service position. They said that even if he quit his position now, it would not change the fact that his candidacy for the Knesset had been illegal. Therefore, according to those Knesset legal officials, the next name on the Shas list, former MK Yair Peretz, entered the Knesset on Sunday. But Peretz himself was convicted of fraud for submitting essays he copied to obtain a bachelor's degree. Peretz's crime was never deemed to involve moral turpitude. The state prosecution did not pursue that designation, because he resigned from the Knesset following his conviction. And even if the prosecution returned him to court to ask a judge to rule that his crime involved moral turpitude, he would legally be allowed to enter the Knesset, because he, unlike Benizri, was not sentenced to serve jail time. But if Bayana is disqualified, Shas officials are expected to press Peretz to resign from the Knesset, because it would embarrass them if a convicted felon replaced Benizri. Should that happen, the next man on the Shas list would enter the Knesset. But that man is Avigdor Ohana, who is serving as acting director-general of the Religious Services Ministry. Shas officials said they believed Ohana could enter the Knesset, because he was not in the position when he ran for Knesset and because the government never officially approved his appointment. If Ohana, too, is disqualified, the next man on the list is Rabbi David Talkar of Ashdod, who was born in India and represents Indian immigrants to Israel on the Shas list. There would be no legal problem with Talkar entering the Knesset. But some legal authorities in the Knesset said Monday night that because Bayana's Knesset candidacy was approved in the first place, he entered the Knesset legally on Sunday. A final decision will be made Tuesday morning on whether Bayana or Peretz entered the Knesset or whether Israel might have its first Indian MK.