Likud MKs said to warn Netanyahu they will block bill restoring Deri to cabinet

Lawmakers reportedly upset PM is assisting Shas leader but not appointing senior party members to ministerial posts; Religious Zionism also said to push back

Likud lawmaker David Amsalem at the Knesset in Jerusalem, December 20, 2022. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)
Likud lawmaker David Amsalem at the Knesset in Jerusalem, December 20, 2022. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

Lawmakers from Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s Likud party have warned the premier they will not support a bill aimed at getting Shas leader Aryeh Deri back into the ruling government unless Netanyahu finds senior positions for two Likud MKs, according to a Wednesday report.

The Channel 12 report also said the Religious Zionism party is uncomfortable with the bill to restore Deri, fearing that passing a law blatantly tailored to a specific individual could undermine the coalition’s wider effort to overhaul the judicial system.

Netanyahu was forced to fire Deri late last month after the High Court of Justice ruled that the recently convicted lawmaker could not serve as a cabinet minister. The Shas leader has vowed to return, a goal backed by all coalition parties.

The government is reportedly working on a bill aimed at restoring Deri to his ministerial positions by stripping the High Court of Justice of the power to disqualify him.

Channel 13 news has reported a draft of the proposed amendment to Basic Law: The Government would legislate that no court at any level has the authority to conduct a judicial review of the appointments of ministers “for any reason whatsoever, except for eligibility conditions” that are technical in nature.

But according to Channel 12, Netanyahu has been told that there’s mounting anger in Likud that he is making great efforts to ensure Deri’s positions, but not making similar efforts for senior Likud MKs David Amsalem and Danny Danon, who were passed over for ministerial positions in the new government.

“It’s not acceptable that for the Shas chairman, Netanyahu is pulling out all the stops, but for senior Likud officials, he doesn’t lift a finger,” Likud insiders were quoted as saying,

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu leads a cabinet meeting at the Prime Minister’s Office in Jerusalem on January 29, 2023. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

Amsalem was the most senior Likud MK who failed to receive a ministerial position in the new government. Once a devout Netanyahu supporter, the two have had a falling out and have clashed several times over the past year.

Known as a firebrand with a brash style, Amsalem was one of the loudest voices questioning the motivation behind the corruption charges against Netanyahu.

In the new government, he demanded the job of either justice minister or Knesset speaker and apparently refused other positions after being denied both.

Netanyahu was forced to give several Likud lawmakers the cold shoulder after handing out most of the top government positions to his coalition partners. While some received ministerial posts, others were given lesser positions or forced to share roles in a rotation.

The Likud chief was also seen as rewarding those who were most loyal to him over the past few years and seeking to weaken those who could challenge his authority in the party.

Likud party members David Amsalem (right) and David Bitan arrive for a Likud faction meeting at the Knesset in Jerusalem on December 28, 2022. (Olivier Fitoussi/Flash90)

Likud MK David Bitan on Wednesday warned that if Netanyahu does not appoint lawmaker Amsalem, Bitan’s ally, to a ministerial position, he would “pay a price.”

“There are various suggestions, but at the moment there’s nothing,” Bitan told Army Radio about efforts to find a role for Amsalem that would end the dispute.

“There’s a lot of unhappiness among Likud voters about this, and Likud activists,” Bitan told Channel 12.

Bitan, also once one of Netanyahu’s fiercest defenders, has sparred with his party head more recently, notably panning his handling of coalition negotiations with Likud’s far-right and Haredi partners. He currently serves as head of the Knesset Economic Committee.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu reads a letter to Shas chair Aryeh Deri, informing Deri that he most remove him from ministerial office, at the weekly cabinet meeting in Jerusalem, January 22, 2023. (Kobi Gideon/GPO)

Deri was appointed health and interior minister when Netanyahu’s new hardline government was sworn in. However, the High Court ruled that granting the Shas chief a cabinet post was “unreasonable in the extreme,” due to both his past criminal convictions and his promise last year to withdraw from political life as part of a plea bargain.

Netanyahu agreed to comply with the court’s ruling but noted that he was doing so with “a heavy heart.”

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