‘Antidemocratic’: Haredi news outlets slam High Court ruling on Deri

Day after Shas chief is disqualified from serving as minister, ultra-Orthodox dailies lambaste justices for ‘yet another outrageous demonstration of political intervention’

Shas chief Aryeh Deri seen outside his home in Jerusalem on January 18, 2023, hours after the High Court ruled he cannot serve as minister since his recent criminal conviction made his appointment as cabinet minister "unreasonable in the extreme." (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)
Shas chief Aryeh Deri seen outside his home in Jerusalem on January 18, 2023, hours after the High Court ruled he cannot serve as minister since his recent criminal conviction made his appointment as cabinet minister "unreasonable in the extreme." (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

Newspapers serving the ultra-Orthodox community lambasted the High Court of Justice on their front pages on Thursday morning, after the court disqualified Shas leader Aryeh Deri from serving as a minister in the government.

The printed newspapers, which are particularly widely read among segments of the Haredi community that shun internet use, suggested that the High Court justices had overturned the will of the people — echoing a campaign to that effect launched by Shas Wednesday night.

The popular Yated Ne’eman daily used the headline “The High Court against democracy,” going on to quote “coalition leaders” as saying the court ruling was an “enormous injustice” and the head of the Haredi Degel HaTorah faction, part of the United Torah Judaism party, to the effect that the court was once again “intervening in issues that have nothing to do with them.”

In a bombshell but unsurprising ruling released Wednesday afternoon, the High Court ruled 10-1 that Deri’s cabinet posting was “unreasonable in the extreme” due to his multiple convictions for corruption charges, noting that as part of a plea bargain agreement he had promised a court last year that he would quit politics following the most recent legal proceedings against him.

The ruling was met with widespread anger among Haredi politicians and many of their supporters, who proclaimed that the court was seeking to undermine the votes of the 392,000 people who cast their ballots for Shas in the November 1 national election.

The daily paper of the Bakehila magazine declared on its front page: “In the face of the High Court’s destructiveness, the last resort is ‘Deri for prime minister.'” Underneath the main headline, the newspaper wrote: “Whoever does not want Deri as a senior minister in the government will get him as alternate prime minister.”

Haredi magazines and newspapers for sale in Jerusalem in 2013. (Nati Shohat/FLASH90)

Coalition officials have reportedly been considering keeping Deri in the cabinet by appointing him alternate prime minister through a complicated Knesset maneuver, although such an appointment may face its own legal challenges.

The Hamevaser daily’s headline simply stated that Deri was barred from office by the justices, but the newspaper’s overline called it a “yet another outrageous demonstration of political intervention” by the High Court. And an editorial teased on the front page declared the ruling a “faulty decision that is unreasonable in the extreme” — echoing the court’s wording on Deri’s appointment.

The Shas mouthpiece Haderech unsurprisingly declared on its front page: “The High Court against the people of Israel,” going on to to call the ruling a “wretched decision” and hailing Deri as “strong and brave.”

The court ruling places Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in a quandary as to how to move forward, forced by the court to fire the head of a party he needs to keep his government alive.

On Wednesday night, hours after the ruling, Deri declared that he would not go quietly. “When they close the door on us, we’ll get in through the window. When they close the window we’ll break through the ceiling, with God’s help,” he said, vowing to “continue the revolution our predecessors began, with even greater devotion and energy.”

Deri, who previously served jail time for an earlier graft conviction, pleaded guilty to the tax charges in 2022 as part of a plea deal in which he resigned from the Knesset and received a suspended prison sentence. A key ally in Netanyahu’s right-wing, far-right, and ultra-Orthodox government, Deri returned to the Knesset as head of Shas’s 11-seat faction in November. Last month, the coalition fast-tracked legislation to smooth his way into holding the interior and health ministry posts.

According to reports Wednesday evening, the government is expected to remove Deri from office in the coming days and attempt to fast-track legislation that would allow him to return, although the High Court’s emphatic ruling could leave them with little recourse.

In addition to the “reasonableness” test, the court indicated that Deri could not walk back his pledge during the plea deal that he would quit the Knesset, and ostensibly politics, due to the legal principle of estoppel, which prohibits parties to legal suits from changing claims in different proceedings.

The use of the estoppel argument may prevent the decision from being overridden by the government, even if it advances legislation to annul the “reasonableness” consideration in order to try to keep Deri in the cabinet.

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