High Court orders Netanyahu, Ben Gvir to respond to petition against nomination

Case cites Ben Gvir’s past activity disturbing public order to argue against him being put in charge of police; similar bid to stop Deri nomination ruled ‘premature’

Incoming prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu, left, former prime minister Naftali Bennett, center, and the leader of the Otzma Yehudit party, Itamar Ben Gvir, attend the funeral of Rabbi Chaim Druckman on December 26, 2022. (Gil COHEN-MAGEN / AFP)
Incoming prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu, left, former prime minister Naftali Bennett, center, and the leader of the Otzma Yehudit party, Itamar Ben Gvir, attend the funeral of Rabbi Chaim Druckman on December 26, 2022. (Gil COHEN-MAGEN / AFP)

The High Court of Justice on Monday ordered incoming prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu and far-right Otzma Yehudit leader Itamar Ben Gvir to respond within two days to a petition demanding that the court block plans to appoint the far-right politician as national security minister.

In a separate case, the court rejected a petition against the appointment of Shas leader Aryeh Deri as minister in the upcoming government, saying it was premature to halt plans for the new government to take office in the coming days.

The petition against Ben Gvir, filed by the Tag Meir coexistence organization, alleged that the far-right firebrand was unqualified to be appointed as minister in charge of the police due to his repeated involvement in efforts to disturb the public order.

The suit cited the Otzma Yehudit leader’s role in arranging provocative demonstrations in mixed Jewish-Arab cities in May 2021, when such areas were beset by nearly unprecedented violence along ethnic lines.

It also noted past convictions on charges of disturbing the public order, interfering with a police officer while performing his duty, as well as incitement to racism and supporting a terror organization.

“There’s a distinction between electing an MK, which is a democratic right, and between the prime minister nominating someone,” Tag Meir director Gadi Gvaryahu said in an interview with the Kan public broadcaster, claiming that Netanyahu lacked the mandate to make such a decision.

“A person who has spent his entire adult life violating the public order, who the current police commissioner blamed for nearly instigating a Jewish intifada, cannot be nominated to be in charge of public order in the State of Israel,” he said.

Tag Meir director Gadi Gvaryahu seen during an interview with the Kan public broadcaster, December 26, 2022. (Kan public broadcaster)

Gvaryahu clarified that he would not have a problem seeing Ben Gvir in a different ministerial position that does not pose a conflict of interest. “Let him be Culture and Sports Minister, let him be Tourism Minister,” he said.

Judge Isaac Amit gave Ben Gvir and Netanyahu until Wednesday to respond to the petition. The new government, including Ben Gvir as national security minister with authority over the police, is scheduled to be sworn in on Thursday.

Not right time for Deri petition

The High Court also rejected a petition filed by the Movement for Quality Government in Israel that demanded that the court issue a temporary injunction halting the planned swearing in of Netanyahu’s government on Thursday over Deri’s expected nomination as a minister.

Early this year, Deri, who was convicted of bribery during his first stint as interior minister in the late 1990s, was handed a second conviction after agreeing to a plea deal on tax offenses. 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.

A bill that would let Deri take up his planned posts as interior and health minister despite his recent suspended sentence for tax fraud was moving through the Knesset and expected to be given final approval early Tuesday. Deri is also slated to become finance minister in two years.

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.

Last month, Attorney General Gali Baharav-Miara recommended that the Central Elections Committee rule on whether there was moral turpitude involved in Deri’s criminal conviction.

Likud leader Benjamin Netanyahu and Shas chief Aryeh Deri at the swearing-in ceremony of the 25th Knesset, at the parliament building in Jerusalem, November 15, 2022. (Olivier Fitoussi/ Flash90)

The petition argued that Deri had manipulated the court and that Netanyahu “chose not to turn to the Central Elections Committee” to rule on the matter but instead allowed the incoming coalition to legislate a law retroactively that would allow Deri’s appointment. It asked that Netanyahu be forced to turn to the court to seek approval for Deri’s appointment.

While the court ruling ordered Netanyahu and Deri to respond to the petition by January 4, the ruling said the petition was “premature” and did not justify preventing the establishment of the government on Thursday.

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