Netanyahu expected to dismiss Shas’s Deri during Sunday’s cabinet meeting

Move follows High Court ruling disqualifying Deri from ministerial office; firing would take effect Tuesday morning, ending his term after only 26 days

Justice Minister Yariv Levin (L), Interior Minister Aryeh Deri (2nd L), Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Tzahi Braverman (R) at a cabinet meeting in Jerusalem, January 8, 2023 (Amos Ben-Gershom/GPO)
Justice Minister Yariv Levin (L), Interior Minister Aryeh Deri (2nd L), Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Tzahi Braverman (R) at a cabinet meeting in Jerusalem, January 8, 2023 (Amos Ben-Gershom/GPO)

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu was expected to dismiss Shas leader Aryeh Deri from his ministerial roles during Sunday’s cabinet meeting, four days after the High Court of Justice ruled that Netanyahu’s decision to appoint Deri as interior and health minister was “unreasonable in the extreme” in light of Deri’s most recent criminal conviction.

Reports Saturday night in Channel 12, Ynet and other outlets said the matter had been coordinated between Netanyahu and Deri.

The dismissal is expected to take effect Tuesday morning, ending Deri’s term after only 26 days in office.

At the same time, the coalition is engaged in an intensive effort to find a solution that will allow Deri to either remain an integral member of the government or to soon return.

According to Channel 12, one option being considered is appointing Deri as an “observer” in the cabinet.

The Movement for Quality Government (MQG), one of the organizations which successfully petitioned the High Court against Deri’s appointment, wrote directly to Netanyahu on Thursday insisting that he fire the Shas party leader “immediately” in order to “respect the rule of law and the separation of powers.”

Health and Interior Minister Aryeh Deri outside his home in Jerusalem, January 18, 2023. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

The organization has requested from the attorney general that she take all available steps to ensure that Netanyahu removes Deri as swiftly as possible, and a spokesperson for MQG said the group would “insist that this happens,” but did not state when further legal action might be taken.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu announces his plans to combat the cost of living, at the Prime Minister’s Office in Jerusalem, on January 11, 2023. (Olivier Fitoussi/Flash90)

Although the prime minister has what is defined as a “reasonable amount of time” to fulfill the court’s order to fire Deri, that period is unlikely to extend much beyond two or three days after the date on which the court handed down the decision.

Allowing Deri to participate in the Sunday morning cabinet meeting in his roles as interior and health minister would almost certainly be considered contempt of court, legal experts told The Times of Israel, although filing for — and receiving — an actual contempt ruling would also take time.

The court’s ruling has created a severe problem for Netanyahu since Deri and his Shas party are a critical part of the coalition, and Deri has insisted that he remain in government in some form, which would likely entail either circumventing the court decision through legislation or being appointed as alternate prime minister, a position which may not be subject to the court’s ruling.

An appointment as alternate prime minister is tricky, as it would likely require the government to dissolve itself and then reform, and necessitates the passage of complex legislation.

Even if that were to be done, the High Court might even still invalidate that appointment as well.

On Thursday, Attorney General Gali Baharav-Miara sent Netanyahu a letter informing him he was required to dismiss Deri from his posts, although she did not stipulate a time frame. According to a report by Channel 13, the reason for Netanyahu’s delay on the issue was due to his search for replacements in the interior and health ministries.

Netanyahu is likely to award Deri’s roles to other members of the cabinet for now as he searches for a solution.

Netanyahu has in the past taken on ministerial portfolios in addition to his position as prime minister for various reasons, but is unable to do so at present because he is currently under indictment and on trial for corruption charges — barring him from serving as a minister, though the law does not prevent him from serving as prime minister.

The High Court ruled that Shas leader Deri’s dual appointments as health and interior minister were “unreasonable in the extreme” in light of his recent and past financial crimes, and that Deri had misled a magistrate’s court into thinking he would retire from political life in order to receive a more lenient sentence in a plea bargain and to avoid a determination that his recent tax fraud convictions carried “moral turpitude,” a finding that would have automatically barred him from office for seven years.

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