Deputy AG blasts ‘fundamental flaws’ in bill to return Deri to cabinet

Gil Limon tells Knesset panel law opens legal ‘black hole,’ will allow convicted criminals to hold senior positions; legal official warns Gifts Law will open door to corruption

Shas party chair Aryeh Deri arrives for a meeting with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu at his office at the Knesset, in Jerusalem, on March 15, 2023. (Oren Ben Hakoon/Flash90)
Shas party chair Aryeh Deri arrives for a meeting with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu at his office at the Knesset, in Jerusalem, on March 15, 2023. (Oren Ben Hakoon/Flash90)

Deputy Attorney General Gil Limon on Sunday slammed a bill aimed at reinstating Shas chief Aryeh Deri in his ministerial post after the High Court struck down his appointment to the cabinet due to past criminal convictions.

As the bill was readied for its final plenum readings, Limon told a special Knesset committee that the legislation will likely be struck down by the High Court of Justice once it is passed into law.

“The law has fundamental flaws and creates a black hole,” he said.

“The proposal weakens legal tools for maintaining the purity of morals in the public service, and joins the Gifts Law — which is an opening for governmental corruption in the receipt of funds by public servants and elected officials — and the Recusal Law,” Limon added, referring to a law loosening restrictions on the receiving of gifts by public officials, and a law forbidding the High Court from forcing the prime minister to take a leave of absence.

The proposal would eliminate court oversight of ministerial picks, paving the way for Deri’s return.

Limon said that the law could allow people with criminal records to be appointed to senior positions, such as justice minister, without any judicial oversight.

“A prime minister will be able to fulfill the duties of half the government ministers at the same time as he holds the position, without the possibility of judicial intervention. He could even be appointed to the position of justice minister, and there is no judicial review of that. That is not what the Knesset’s constituent authority was intended for,” he said.

Deputy Attorney General Gil Limon (center) speaks at a meeting of the Knesset Constitution, Law and Justice Committee, on January 16, 2023. (Dani Shem-Tov/Knesset)

In response, the committee’s chair, Likud MK Ofir Katz, said: “Not all wisdom lies with the High Court. With the transparency we have introduced into the law, the public and only it will be able to judge us for decisions we make.”

In an explosive January 2023 ruling, the High Court said Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s decision to appoint a convicted financial criminal as minister in charge of the large Health Ministry and Interior Ministry budgets was “unreasonable in the extreme.”

The court also ruled that the principle of estoppel barred Deri from ministerial office, because in his January 2022 plea bargain, he gave the Jerusalem Magistrate’s Court the impression that he was quitting politics permanently in order to secure the deal.

Deri denies that he ever committed to permanently retiring from political life.

The Recusal Law, passed last week, is widely seen as a reaction to fears that the High Court of Justice could force Netanyahu to step down, due to the potential conflict of interest created by him overseeing his coalition’s bid to dramatically overhaul the judiciary while he is himself on trial for multiple corruption charges.

The Gifts Law, planned for an interim floor vote this week, is tied to the High Court of Justice’s ongoing demand for Netanyahu to return $270,000 given to help him cover his legal fees and would enable politicians, officeholders, and their families to receive donations for medical and legal expenses.

That law “opens the door to corruption in the entire public service,” warned Oren Fono, another representative for the attorney general, on Sunday.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu seen during a discussion and a vote in the Knesset, Jerusalem, on March 22, 2023. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

The senior official in the Legal Counsel and Legislative Affairs Department told the Knesset House Committee, which is preparing the bill, that it could cause “situations in which a public servant would receive favors because he is a public servant and would create dependence between public servants and their donors.”

Additionally, “a mechanism will be created that can be misused to disguise criminal offenses.” Fono noted that public servants may already accept such gifts from friends and family, provided that they do not take them in their capacities as public servants.

The coalition has been barreling ahead with legislation that aims to weaken the High Court’s ability to serve as a check on the Knesset, as well as give the government control over the appointment of judges.

The Knesset Constitution, Law and Justice Committee convened Sunday to continue the process of preparing and approving the judicial appointments bill for its second and third (final) Knesset readings.

While supporters say the judicial overhaul will rebalance power away from an overly activist court, critics argue the moves will remove essential checks on executive and legislative power, putting democracy in peril and leaving the rights of many undefended.

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