Sources close to Shas chairman Aryeh Deri on Thursday expressed concern that the High Court of Justice would disqualify his bid to become a minister and blamed Justice Minister Yariv Levin for antagonizing the court with his legal “bombshell” announced on the eve of the hearing.
The accusations came as the court was hearing a petition demanding that Deri’s appointment as a cabinet minister be annulled due to his recent conviction on tax offenses.
During the first sessions, the judges appeared skeptical regarding the arguments of Deri’s lawyers, who posited that the court did not have the authority to overturn his appointment.
Speaking to The Times of Israel’s Hebrew sister site Zman Yisrael, Deri’s confidants blamed Levin for antagonizing the court with his announcement on Wednesday night of his plans to radically overhaul Israel’s legal and judicial system.
Levin’s proposal would severely limit the authority of the High Court, give the government the ability to overturn rulings, hand it control over judicial selection, and significantly limit the authority of government legal advisers.
“Levin dropped a bombshell on us,” the confidant said. “Who presents such a revolution on the eve of such an important hearing for us? What did he expect? That the judges would fold — or that they will move with all their strength against us?”
“I don’t know what the judges will rule in the end, but the general feeling — including among the lawyers — is that the judges are going to overrule [Deri’s] appointment. Even if our arguments were correct, they won’t value them because of what Levin did,” the source said, expressing frustration and anger that Levin had not consulted with Shas officials before making his announcement.
The government’s amendment passed last month changed the Basic Law in a way that means that Deri can be appointed to a cabinet portfolio despite having received a 12-month suspended jail sentence in February 2022 that is yet to expire.
The petitions against Deri’s appointment, submitted by the Movement for Quality Government, the Movement for Ethical Behavior and a group of private individuals, argue that his 2022 conviction on tax fraud charges, added to his conviction in 1999 on bribery charges, makes his appointment “unreasonable.”
In addition, the petitions argue that the legislation allowing his appointment was illegitimate, since it was passed due to the political considerations of an individual politician and the new government.
All of Shas’s ministers attended the court hearing, sitting in the second row behind the lawyers.
The ministers appeared confident that even if the appointment were overturned, Levin’s judicial reforms would allow him to be reinstated.
“In the end, Deri will be a minister,” one of them said, speaking on condition of anonymity and echoing the argument of the lawyers that the court could not overturn the will of the voters. “There is the override law that will change their decision.”
Among Levin’s proposed reforms was a High Court override clause to allow the Knesset to re-legislate a law struck down by the court, with the barest majority of 61 MKs. Netanyahu’s bloc holds a 64-seat majority in the 120-seat Knesset.
Deri was not in court, as he was attending the first meeting of the high-level security cabinet in Tel Aviv.