Barely 1 in 5 Israelis think it’s all right for Deri to be a minister — poll

Nearly two-thirds of respondents to TV survey say Shas chief, convicted of tax offenses last year, shouldn’t serve in cabinet; Levin’s proposed legal overhaul opposed 39%-29%

New Interior Minister Aryeh Deri attends a handover ceremony at the Interior Ministry in Jerusalem, on January 1, 2023. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)
New Interior Minister Aryeh Deri attends a handover ceremony at the Interior Ministry in Jerusalem, on January 1, 2023. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

Less than a quarter of Israelis support Shas chief Aryeh Deri’s appointment as a minister in the new government led by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, according to a television poll aired Friday.

Deri was sworn in as interior and health minister last week as Netanyahu’s right-religious bloc took power after winning a majority of seats in the November 1 election. The ultra-Orthodox party leader’s appointment is currently being challenged in the High Court due to his conviction last year on tax offenses, for which he received a suspended prison sentence.

Asked if it was appropriate for Deri to be a minister, 65 percent of participants in the Channel 12 news survey said no, versus 22% who said yes. The remaining 13% did not know.

Among supporters of Netanyahu’s bloc, 43% said it was not appropriate for Deri to serve as a minister, while 42% said it was. Along with Netanyahu’s own Likud party and Shas, his bloc includes another Haredi party and a trio of far-right factions.

The survey results were released a day after the High Court of Justice heard petitions against Deri’s appointment as minister, with justices questioning the legitimacy of the February 2022 plea bargain in which he said he would quit the Knesset, only to return nine months later and become a cabinet minister.

The High Court expressed significant skepticism regarding the legitimacy of the government’s political and legal maneuverings to allow Deri to serve as a minister once again. The petitions argue that Deri’s conviction on tax fraud charges, as well as his conviction in 1999 for bribery, make his appointment “unreasonable.”

They also argue that legislation recently passed by the new government amending Basic Law: The Government to allow Deri to be appointed was a misuse of the Knesset’s constituent authority, since the law was passed for the benefit of an individual politician and the immediate needs of the new government.

Supreme Court President Esther Hayut and other justices arrive for a hearing on petitions against the appointment of Shas party leader Aryeh Deri as a minister due to his recent conviction for tax offenses, at the Supreme Court in Jerusalem, on January 5, 2023. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

Thursday’s hearing took place under the shadow of Justice Minister Yariv Levin’s announcement on Wednesday night of his plans to radically overhaul the legal and judicial system.

Levin specified plans for change in four core areas: restricting the High Court’s capacity to strike down laws and government decisions, by requiring a panel of all the court’s 15 judges and a “special majority” to do so, and including an “override clause” enabling the Knesset to re-legislate such laws; changing the process for choosing judges, to give the government effective control of the selection panel; preventing the court from using a litmus test of “reasonableness” against which to evaluate legislation and government decisions; and allowing ministers to appoint and fire their own legal advisers, instead of getting counsel from advisers operating under the Justice Ministry aegis.

Former justices and other senior legal officials have warned that the proposals represent a grave threat to Israel’s democratic character and the rights of minorities, and several dozen people protested Friday near Levin’s home.

The Channel 12 poll asked respondents if they were for or against the proposed changes, with 39% against and 29% in favor. Nearly a third — 32% — said they did not know.

Backers of Netanyahu’s coalition had a much clearer view, with 51% saying they support Levin’s reform package and the other 49% opposing it.

Benjamin Netanyahu, right, embraces Yariv Levin in the Knesset plenum on December 13, 2022. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

The survey also asked Israelis what they believed was the chief reason behind Levin’s proposals. A plurality of 42% said they thought the changes were aimed at freezing Netanyahu’s ongoing trial on corruption charges — in which he denies wrongdoing — and ensuring Deri’s appointment as minister.

Another 39% said they believed that Levin’s effort is a genuine attempt to reform the legal system. It was not specified what the other 19% thought.

Most respondents opposed National Security Minister Itamar Ben Gvir’s visit to the Temple — with 59% saying they opposed it, 29% saying they backed it, and 12% didn’t know.

The poll was conducted for Channel 12 by Manu Geva of the Midgam institute in cooperation with iPanel. The network did not specify the number of respondents nor provide a margin of error.

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