In a rare move, members of all the coalition parties joined Shas’s weekly Knesset faction meeting on Monday to express support for Shas party leader Aryeh Deri, who was fired as a cabinet minister on Sunday in line with a High Court of Justice ruling that his appointment was inappropriate in light of his past financial crimes.
Sitting to Deri’s right during the meeting were Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, Knesset Speaker Amir Ohana and Justice Minister Yariv Levin of Likud. Leaders from every coalition party were in attendance.
Speaking at the meeting, Netanyahu reaffirmed his commitment to return Deri to the government, just a day after he was forced to fire him from his roles as interior and health minister.
Every single Shas voter knew that they were voting for Deri on the assumption that he would serve as a minister in the government, said Netanyahu. Therefore, “harm has been done to the principle of the will of the majority, and we must fix this,” Netanyahu said, pledging to restore Deri to the cabinet table “where he belongs, as soon as possible,” and saying it was just “for right now” that Deri isn’t a minister. “We all need a strong Aryeh [also the Hebrew word for “lion”] at our side,” he said.
“It’s the wrong decision… that coerced us into a situation in which Aryeh Deri is not leading as a minister in the government,” Netanyahu said, adding that “no one plans to give up” on the fight to return him to the cabinet.
The premier connected Deri’s dismissal to the broader fight against the judiciary, saying his government was facing “a flood of false propaganda” against its sweeping reform plans, “but we won’t let them win.”
“We haven’t come to end democracy,” he said. “We’ve come to save democracy. What is democracy? Rule of the majority and respect for individual rights.” He added that the way to ensure that the majority respects individual rights is an appropriate balance between the three branches of government.
“This balance has been violated in recent years,” he argued.
Deri attacked the judicial system for not giving the government an earlier indication that his ministerial appointments would be shot down.
“No one warned the prime minister that he was working under an ‘extreme lack of reasonableness,'” Deri charged, referencing the High Court’s basis for disqualifying him, despite the fact that his appointments were “discussed for a full month.”
Deri claimed that his legal woes were not just his fight, and that he remains in politics because he wants to promote “governance” and “to respect the definitive Jewish identity of Israel.”
He said he was “here because I have a true commitment” to achieving those goals. “The coalition is moving forward, the government is moving forward, we won’t let Israel fall.”
“If anyone thinks they can carry out a coup, via all kinds of administrative and legal decisions, they will find themselves facing a coalition as strong as iron,” declared Deri.
Justice Minister Levin told those gathered that “it’s not your private fight,” but rather “it’s an issue for the whole public.”
“In a democracy, the ones who vote and decide who will be the government, the ministers, and the lawmakers are the public, the nation,” he said. “A place in which a judge decides [who can be a minister] can be called by many names, but a democracy it is not.
“Judicial rule is not the rule of law,” he added. “In many cases it’s the opposite of the rule of law.”
“Those who abuse their power,” said Levin, “are likely to discover that it boomerangs.”
Likud’s Education Minister Yoav Kisch similarly said the High Court had made a political decision in its ruling, claiming that if Deri had decided to join a government led by the opposition, “he would be a senior minister.”
United Torah Judaism senior lawmaker Moshe Gafni told Deri: “We’re with you through thick or thin.”
Religious Zionism party leader Bezalel Smotrich said “the fight that the court is bringing against Minister Deri is a fight against this entire coalition… We’re all here for you and at your side.” Otzma Yehudit head Itamar Ben Gvir added, “We won’t give in to any pressure, any agenda, any policy of fear. At the end of the day, the nation of Israel will win.”
Ohana also said the court’s decision had “trampled” public will.
On Sunday Netanyahu said he had made his decision to fire Deri “with a heavy heart” after the High Court court ruled that the party chief’s appointment as a minister was “unreasonable in the extreme,” due both to his past criminal convictions and his promise last year to withdraw from political life as part of a plea bargain that he ostensibly did not honor.
The premier vowed “to seek any legal way you can continue to contribute to the State of Israel with your experience and many talents, in accordance with the will of the people.”
Deri, meanwhile, said: “I have no intention, I never had an intention and I never pledged to withdraw from political life… Things were clearly set on the table [in plea deal talks] from the start of the discussions until their end.”
The dismissal is set to take effect on Tuesday, just 26 days after the premier swore in Deri along with the rest of his right-wing, far-right, and ultra-Orthodox government. Deri will retain his mostly honorific vice premier title, his spokesman confirmed. It is unclear whether this will give Deri the ability to attend cabinet meetings as an observer.
Shas has pushed for Netanyahu to find a way to bring Deri back into the government.