Former Supreme Court justice Yoram Danziger — one of the judges who previously cleared Shas leader Aryeh Deri to become a minister following a criminal conviction — said he would not do so again now that Deri has been convicted of another offense.
“Today, we’re in a different situation, a situation in which MK Deri committed yet another crime — not years ago, but much more recently,” Danziger told Channel 12 news on Sunday.
Deri was convicted of bribery during his first stint as interior minister in the late 1990s and sentenced to prison. In 2013, he returned to the Knesset and in 2015 became a minister for the Economy and for the Development of the Periphery, the Negev and the Galilee. In 2015, when Deri was set to again be appointed interior minister, Danziger and other Supreme Court justices rejected a petition seeking to bar him from that role.
In an interview, Danziger explained to the network that at the time there was “no extreme unreasonability” in allowing Deri to once again become interior minister because years had passed since his conviction and prison term. He noted that that view was held by himself and another member of the three-judge panel who heard the petition, while the third found it would be “clearly unreasonable” for Deri to return to the ministry. The petition was thus rejected in a majority decision.
Early this year, Deri was handed a second conviction after agreeing to a plea deal on tax offenses, and he resigned from the Knesset in order to dodge a designation of “moral turpitude,” which would have barred him from returning to public office for several years. The plea deal saw Deri receive a lenient sentence after the judge was given to understand that he intended to step down from politics altogether.
Deri is poised to again return as a cabinet minister after the incoming coalition passes legislation allowing such a move by removing a possible hurdle relating to the suspended sentence.
Earlier this month the Knesset voted to advance a bill that would let Deri take up his planned posts as interior and health minister, and later in the Knesset term, finance minister, despite his recent suspended sentence for tax fraud.
The current law bars a person from serving as a minister if they have been sentenced to prison within the past seven years. It is vague on whether this applies only to custodial sentences or also to suspended terms, and the attorney general recommended that the head of the Central Elections Committee rule on the matter, potentially blocking Deri’s appointment.
If finalized, the Basic Law update will obviate the need to send the case to the CEC for decision by instead laying down in law that suspended sentences do not bar a person from becoming a minister.
Danziger told Channel 12 that this time, if he were still a judge he would not support Deri becoming a minister, particularly after he “made statements that he is leaving political life” as part of the plea deal.
Legislation paving the way for Deri’s return is “wrong,” he added.
Deri’s legal representative attorney Navot Tal-Tzur told Channel 12 in a statement that his client’s remarks about leaving public office were only ever intended to refer to a limited period.
“There was never any talk of MK Aryeh Deri’s permanent retirement from political life,” he said. “Therefore, any statement that Deri allegedly broke his commitment to retire from political life is completely baseless.”
A day after his conviction and sentencing in February, Deri vowed to return to the Knesset in the next election, telling the press he had been unfairly hounded over the tax issue due to his Sephardic ethnicity.
On Sunday, the Movement for a Quality Government in Israel lobby group filed a High Court petition seeking to prevent Deri from becoming a minister by seeking to cancel the plea deal, as Deri had “deceived” the court.
“It was a mistake to let Deri return to the scene of the crime the first time, but to let him return a second time is utter madness, and moral and ethical bankruptcy,” movement chairman Eliad Sharga said in a statement. “The High Court must intervene to prevent this disgrace, and cancel the plea agreement with Aryeh Deri.”
Prime minister-designate Benjamin Netanyahu led a bloc of right-wing, religious and ultra-Orthodox parties to victory in the November 1 elections, winning 64 seats in the 120-seat Knesset. Shas won 11 seats, making it a vital partner for Netanyahu’s Likud to have a majority in parliament.