Israel's judiciary keeps the Jewish state democratic - editorial

The Arye Deri ruling demonstrates that Israel’s system of checks and balances has worked to exemplary effect, and it should be a source of pride for all Israelis.

Israel's High Court of Justice (photo credit: ISRAELTOURISM / WIKIMEDIA COMMONS)
Israel's High Court of Justice
(photo credit: ISRAELTOURISM / WIKIMEDIA COMMONS)

In what some see as a triumph of Israel’s justice system and others consider a declaration of war, the High Court of Justice announced on Wednesday afternoon that long-time Shas chairman Arye Deri cannot serve in the assigned positions of interior and health minister.

With 10 justices in agreement and only one dissenting, the High Court ruled that Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu must remove Deri from his government posts. However, he can remain an MK. The ruling was expected, but was still dramatic, as it threw the coalition into a crisis.

Welfare Minister Ya’akov Margi from Shas had said before the ruling that “Netanyahu knows that if Arye Deri is not in the government, there is no government.”

“Netanyahu knows that if Arye Deri is not in the government, there is no government.”

Ya'acov Margi

Why did the court rule against Arye Deri?

Deri’s signing of a plea bargain in 2021 for tax offenses committed while in office was cited as the main contributing cause of the court’s decision. 

 Arye Deri at a meeting of the Health care basket committee, at the Sheba Medical Center in Ramat Gan, on January 18, 2023 (credit: TOMER NEUBERG/FLASH90) Arye Deri at a meeting of the Health care basket committee, at the Sheba Medical Center in Ramat Gan, on January 18, 2023 (credit: TOMER NEUBERG/FLASH90)

Most of the justices accepted that by signing the plea bargain, Deri had committed himself to retire from public life. Deri’s legal team argued that the deal did not include retiring from government work, which he had never intended to do. This was not Deri’s first offense. In 1999, he was given a three-year jail sentence after being convicted of bribery, fraud and breach of trust.

It’s important to note that the one judge who did not vote to immediately remove Deri from his ministerial positions voted that he be investigated for moral turpitude by a committee, which would – if he were found guilty – remove him from the position nevertheless. That is to say, he would be transferring responsibility of Deri’s political fate back to the politicians.

As evidenced by the extensive explanations the justices provided, it’s clear that the decision was made solely on legal considerations, without any political considerations surrounding the new government’s plans for a judicial overhaul.

However, those dismayed by the ruling can’t help but believe it is tied into the overarching battle taking place over the controversial judicial reform. It has been called, in extreme cases, a declaration of war by the High Court. 

They believe that because the coalition hopes to strip the power of the High Court, the court has stripped one of the leading faces in the coalition of his government ministries.

Deri’s reaction was extreme. “They close the door on us, so we will enter through the window,” he said. “They close the window on us, so we will break in through the ceiling.”

“They close the door on us, so we will enter through the window. They close the window on us, so we will break in through the ceiling.”

Arye Deri

Other people affiliated with Shas blamed the ruling on discrimination against Sephardim, citing that the 10 justices were all Ashkenazi.

Those reactions, while expected, exemplify the contempt in which certain elements of society hold the justice system.

Likud MK Danny Danon even told KAN News that the court would never have ruled against a minister if he was part of a government led by former prime minister Yair Lapid.

Thankfully, all indications point to Netanyahu deciding to remove Deri from the government, because he has no choice.

Attorney-General Gali Baharav-Miara made that clear in a letter to the prime minister after the ruling in which she wrote:  “According to the ruling that was given today... MK Deri cannot continue serving as a minister in the Israeli government. Consequently, and according to your authority... you must act according to the ruling and remove him from his roles in the government.” 

“According to the ruling that was given today... MK Deri cannot continue serving as a minister in the Israeli government. Consequently, and according to your authority... you must act according to the ruling and remove him from his roles in the government.”

Gali Baharav-Miara

The ruling demonstrates that Israel’s system of checks and balances has worked to exemplary effect, and it should be a source of pride for all Israelis. It’s a system in which the High Court constantly reviews the actions of the government and protects civil rights and minority rights. This is what keeps the Jewish state democratic.

With such an overwhelming consensus from a panel of judges whose political views range widely, there can be no doubt that politics didn’t play a role in their decision.

However, by doing what’s right, trouble lies ahead for the High Court. The coalition is going to push its proposed judicial reforms harder than ever urged on by those who support Deri and who see the High Court’s ruling as an attempt to bring down the coalition. The ruling will be exploited as a prime reason for judicial overhaul.

But, we can take solace for now, and even revel in the court’s decision, which shows that the legal system in Israel is alive, well and doing its job.