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Deri says he won’t support Knesset efforts to cancel Netanyahu trial

Shas leader says Netanyahu himself prefers to complete trial and prove himself innocent; will support efforts for lawmakers to override courts in some situations

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, left, with Shas party chairman Interior Minister Aryeh Deri, March 4, 2020. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, left, with Shas party chairman Interior Minister Aryeh Deri, March 4, 2020. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

Interior Minister and Shas party leader Aryeh Deri said Sunday that would never support legislation to halt Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s corruption trial.

Speaking in an interview with Channel 13 ahead of Tuesday’s election, Deri pledged that right-wing political parties will not undermine the judiciary, vowing the court system will remain “strong.”

“Write this down: ‘No one will harm the High Court,’” said Deri, adding that such a move would cause “absolute lawlessness.”

Repeatedly pressed on the issue, Deri pledged he will not back any Knesset laws that aim to help Netanyahu evade criminal prosecution.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu at his corruption trial hearing at the Jerusalem District Court, February 8, 2021. (Reuven Castro/Pool)

“There is no such initiative.  There will not be such a thing because Netanyahu does not want it, Netanyahu understands what it means to stop a trial in the middle,” Deri said. “He does not want such a stain.”

Deri said he had spoken about it with Netanyahu and the prime minister was determined to see out the trial and prove his innocence.

However, Deri did say he would support legislation that would temporarily allow the Knesset to bypass the court on some laws, but “no one will harm the judges’ authority” on civil and criminal matters.

“One thing we will do, which we haven’t managed to do until today, is to balance it out,” he said.” It can’t be the case that the Knesset will legislate laws… and the court knocks it down.”

“We have to be able to rule,” Deri said.

Deri served 22 months in prison from 2000 to 2002, after he was convicted of taking bribes as interior minister in the 1990s.

He reclaimed the leadership of his Shas party shortly before the 2015 Knesset elections, replacing Eli Yishai. He returned to his Interior Ministry post in 2016, after a court ruled his prior conviction did not disqualify him from the position.

Last month a court delayed the evidentiary stage of Netanyahu’s corruption trial until April 5, ceding to a request by the premier’s legal team for the proceedings to start after the elections.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu arrives for a court hearing at the District Court in Jerusalem on February 8, 2021. Netanyahu is charged with fraud and breach of trust in three cases and bribery in one of them. (Reuven Kastro/POOL)

Netanyahu has pleaded not guilty to the three charges against him.

The premier’s lawyers have repeatedly moved to delay and discredit the proceedings, filing complaints against the prosecution, alleging “criminal tactics” had been used against them, calling for changing the indictment against the prime minister, and claiming that police investigators had used illegitimate means to secure evidence, thus rendering the charges moot.

Netanyahu faces charges of bribery, fraud, and breach of trust in Case 4000, which involves suspicions that he granted regulatory favors benefiting Shaul Elovitch, the controlling shareholder of Bezeq telecoms, in exchange for positive coverage of the prime minister and his family from the Bezeq-owned Walla news site. The Elovitches also face bribery charges in the case.

Netanyahu also faces charges of fraud and breach of trust in Case 1000 and in Case 2000. The former involves suspicions Netanyahu illicitly accepted some $200,000 in gifts such as cigars and champagne from two billionaires — Hollywood-based Israeli movie mogul Arnon Milchan and Australian magnate James Packer.

In Case 2000, Netanyahu is accused of attempting to reach a quid pro quo with Yedioth Ahronoth publisher Arnon Mozes for positive media coverage in exchange for legislation weakening rival newspaper Israel Hayom. Mozes was charged with bribery in the case.

Netanyahu, who is the first Israeli premier to be indicted while in office, denies any wrongdoing and has railed against the courts, prosecution, and media for what he terms a “witch hunt.” He alleges the state prosecution, police, media and opposition are framing him in an attempted political coup.

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