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Lapid calls on PM not to appoint Shas leader as interior minister

Yesh Atid head says Aryeh Deri not fit to handle public coffers given criminal record; Netanyahu gears up for tough coalition talks

Then-finance minister Yair Lapid, left, talks to Shas chairman Aryeh Deri at the Knesset in March 2013. (Isaac Harari/Flash90)
Then-finance minister Yair Lapid, left, talks to Shas chairman Aryeh Deri at the Knesset in March 2013. (Isaac Harari/Flash90)

Yair Lapid, head of the Yesh Atid party which garnered 11 seats in Tuesday’s elections, called on Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu not to appoint Shas’s Aryeh Deri as interior minister when he forms his next coalition. Deri has in the past served a prison sentence for corruption while in that same post.

In a post on Facebook on Saturday, Lapid wrote: “Are you comfortable with the idea of giving a senior ministry (I understand it’s the interior ministry) — which oversees billions of shekels in budget funds — to a man in whose conviction the judges wrote? This is not an isolated failure on the part of a young politician who was recently exposed to power, but a person who consistently led a life based on corruption.”

“Do not abandon the public coffers to [such] a man, Mr. Prime Minister, this money belongs to all of us,” Lapid wrote.

On Thursday, a petition posted to the Internet called on Netanyahu to refrain from accepting Deri into his government and to prevent him from reassuming a ministerial position, owing to his criminal record.

Deri was the head of Shas until he was convicted in 1999 of accepting $155,000 in bribes while running the Interior Ministry, and served 22 months in prison. He returned to the party in 2012 and challenged then-party head Eli Yishai for the faction’s top spot.

A power-sharing agreement that created a leadership troika of Deri, Yishai and Ariel Atias was short-lived, and Deri returned to lead the party in 2013.

Yishai quit the party in the lead-up to the 2015 elections, but his rival party Yachad failed to achieve the minimal number of votes in Tuesday’s elections to enter the Knesset.

Shas, meanwhile, garnered 7 seats and Netanyahu seems set on forming a six-party right-wing/ultra-Orthodox coalition, comprising Likud (30 seats), Kulanu (10 seats), Jewish Home (8 seats), Shas, Yisrael Beytenu (6 seats) and United Torah Judaism (6 seats), giving him 67 seats in the 120-member Knesset.

As Netanyahu gears up for negotiations to build a ruling coalition, speculations abound on who will get what ministry or chairmanship.

It’s been suggested that Deri would be offered the interior ministry.

A Channel 2 report indicated Friday that Netanyahu wanted to keep his outgoing defense minister, foreign minister and economy minister in their posts, but faces extremely complicated negotiations to build a coalition.

Israeli TV and newspapers have been rife with speculation in the past three days over who will get which portfolio in the next government, with Avigdor Liberman (Yisrael Beytenu) and Naftali Bennett (Jewish Home) both said to be eyeing the defense minister’s job.

Channel 2 news Friday night said Bennett wants the defense role for himself and the education portfolio for a party colleague, and that Liberman might not join the coalition at all if he doesn’t get the defense post.

Netanyahu’s preference, the report said, is to retain Likud colleague Moshe Ya’alon as defense minister, leave Liberman at the Foreign Ministry and keep Bennett at the Economy Ministry — an arrangement certain to be unacceptable to Bennett.

Channel 2 also claimed that defeated Zionist Union head, Isaac Herzog, refused to rule out sitting in a coalition with Netanyahu in an interview that it conducted with him on Friday and will broadcast on Saturday.

Since being beaten Tuesday in general elections with 24 seats for his Zionist Union to 30 for Netanyahu’s Likud, Herzog has spoken publicly about leading the opposition and given no hint of interest in serving as a junior coalition partner. Neither has Netanyahu expressed any interest in having Zionist Union in his coalition, though the possibility of such a scenario might pressure his right-wing allies/rivals into lowering their demands in the coalition talks.

Yair Lapid, left, and Moshe Kahlon arguing during a televised debate on February 26, 2015. (Screen capture: Channel 2)
Yair Lapid, left, and Moshe Kahlon arguing during a televised debate on February 26, 2015. (Screen capture: Channel 2)

In further unconfirmed and somewhat bizarre reports, Channel 2 also claimed Moshe Kahlon, the former Likud minister whose new Kulanu party won 10 seats in Tuesday’s elections, wants centrist Yesh Atid to join the coalition as well.

Several reports Friday said Kahlon was to endorse Netanyahu for another term in office when he meets next week with President Reuven Rivlin to discuss who should head the next coalition.

Kahlon has demanded the post of finance minister in the new government, but is also said to seek other positions of influence for party members, including the chair of the powerful Knesset Finance Committee and responsibility for aspects of housing and construction. His key goal, he said in returning to politics ahead of the March 17 elections, was to reduce the cost of living in Israel and bring down soaring housing prices.

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