'I won't slam the door on my political life'

Ethiopian rabbi would replace Benizri.

Shas MK Shlomo Benizri will be automatically suspended from the Knesset if, as expected, the Jerusalem District Court sentences him to jail or rules that the crimes for which he was convicted on Tuesday involved moral turpitude, according to a bill that passed in the Knesset last year. The court is expected to sentence him next week. Until then, Benizri will remain an MK, though because the Knesset begins a lengthy recess on Wednesday, it is unlikely that he will return to the parliament. According to the bill, which was sponsored by MKs Gilad Erdan (Likud) and Shelly Yacimovich (Labor), Benizri could return to the Knesset only in the unlikely scenario that he wins his final appeal. Benizri said at a press conference that his initial instinct following the court's verdict had been to suspend himself from the Knesset, but that the Knesset's legal department had told him the option did not exist. "They told me that there was no such provision - that I could either resign or remain in office as an MK, that suspension could only come after it was determined whether or not there was a question of criminal intent," he said. Benizri ruled out the suggestion that he resign, arguing that "the moment I resign, I would be slamming the door on political life. I will not resign. Let's wait for the sentencing." He will be replaced in the Knesset by Rabbi Mazor Bayana from Beersheba, who will become the third Ethiopian immigrant to serve in the Knesset and the second one in the current Knesset, joining MK Shlomo Mula of Kadima. Bayana, who made aliya via Sudan in 1982, is the rabbi of 10,0000 Ethiopian immigrants in Beersheba. He studied at the Porat Yosef Yeshiva, one of the most prestigious Sephardi yeshivot in Israel. Rabbi Ovadia Yosef, Shas's spiritual mentor, has been outspoken in support of Ethiopian Jewry. He was one of the only haredi halachic authorities who ruled that Ethiopians were full-fledged Jews, while most insisted that members of the community convert. Shas chairman Eli Yishai told Benizri that he and the rest of Shas were convinced of his innocence and would pray for his exoneration in his appeal to the Supreme Court. MK Moshe Sharoni (Pensioner's Party) expressed his hope that Yosef would instruct Benizri to resign, as did National Union MK Arye Eldad. "It is totally unreasonable that an MK who has been convicted of serious offenses should participate in [Knesset] deliberations and in votes critical to the Israeli public," said MK Ran Cohen (Meretz). Rebecca Anna Stoil, Matthew Wagner and Nathan Tobin contributed to this report.