Hinting at plans to return, Deri temporarily fills his vacated ministerial posts

Shas’s Michael Malkieli named acting interior minister, Yoav Ben-Tzur acting health minister, as Deri’s dismissal takes effect; positions must be permanently filled within 3 months

Aryeh Deri speaks during a Shas party faction meeting at the Knesset in Jerusalem, on January 23, 2023. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)
Aryeh Deri speaks during a Shas party faction meeting at the Knesset in Jerusalem, on January 23, 2023. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

Shas leader Aryeh Deri on Tuesday appointed two Knesset members from his party to temporarily fill in for him as ministers of the interior and health, six days after the High Court of Justice barred his return to ministerial office in light of his past financial crimes and apparently broken pledge to leave political life.

In accordance with the court ruling, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu reluctantly fired Deri on Sunday, and his dismissal took formal effect on Tuesday.

Deri appointed current Religious Affairs Minister Michael Malkieli as acting interior minister, and Yoav Ben-Tzur, who is a minister within the Welfare Ministry, as health minister.

Acting ministers can serve for a period of three months before a permanent appointment must be made. Under the coalition agreements, the interior and health ministries belong to the Shas party.

Opposition leader Yair Lapid criticized the temporary appointments, saying that Israelis deserved “full-time ministers.”

“The Israeli public doesn’t need to pay the price for the machinations and legal problems of Netanyahu and Deri,” he said.

The temporary nature of the appointments suggested that Deri hopes to soon return to ministerial office, as he and other coalition heads vowed on Monday.

Shas party member Michael Malkieli at the Knesset in Jerusalem, May 20, 2019. (Hadas Parush/Flash90)

In a rare move, members of all the coalition parties joined Shas’s weekly Knesset faction meeting to express support for Deri.

Speaking at the meeting, Netanyahu reaffirmed his commitment to return Deri to the government.

Every single Shas voter knew that they were voting for Deri on the assumption that he would serve as a minister in the government, said Netanyahu. Therefore, “harm has been done to the principle of the will of the majority, and we must fix this,” he said, pledging to restore Deri to the cabinet table “where he belongs, as soon as possible.”

The premier connected Deri’s dismissal to the broader fight against the judiciary, saying his government was facing “a flood of false propaganda” against its sweeping reform plans, “but we won’t let them win.”

Minister Yoav Ben-Tzur (C) with Aryeh Deri at the Ministry of Social Affairs, Jerusalem on January 1, 2023.(Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

At the same meeting, Deri attacked the judicial system, claiming the government had not had an earlier indication that his ministerial appointments would be shot down.

“No one warned the prime minister that he was working under an ‘extreme lack of reasonableness,'” Deri charged, referencing the High Court’s basis for disqualifying him, despite the fact that his appointments were “discussed for a full month.”

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu addresses the Shas party’s Knesset faction meeting on January 23, 2023, in a show of solidarity for Aryeh Deri (left); Netanyahu fired Deri on January 22, after the High Court ruled he could not hold ministerial office (Knesset channel screenshot)

On Sunday Netanyahu said he had made his decision to fire Deri “with a heavy heart.”

Deri will retain his mostly honorific vice premier title, his spokesman confirmed. It is unclear whether this will give Deri the ability to attend cabinet meetings as an observer. He attended a meeting of coalition party chiefs on Sunday, hours after he was fired from his ministerial posts.

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