Cabinet ministers Sunday approved the appointment of Shas party leader Aryeh Deri as Israel’s new interior minister, a post from which Deri resigned in September 1993 to face charges of corruption.
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu welcomed the new addition to the cabinet and charged Deri with focusing on two main goals: preventing illegal migrants from entering the country while expelling those who are already in Israel, and redefining municipal boundaries to more evenly distribute property taxes collected by local authorities.
MK Yair Lapid of the opposition Yesh Atid party — who earlier this year pushed a Knesset bill aimed at preventing those with a conviction bearing moral turpitude from taking public office — slammed the development.
“In May I tabled before the Knesset a bill… The idea is simple: A person who is convicted for a crime that includes turpitude can’t be a minister, member of Knesset, or a mayor. It isn’t a law that targets Deri; it’s a law that targets corruption in Israel,” Lapid said.
The resignation last month of interior minister Silvan Shalom amid a series of sexual harassment allegations, signaled a brief but frenetic jockeying for the post among Likud lawmakers, including Culture Minister Miri Regev and MK Tzachi Hanegbi. (The allegations against Shalom were not substantiated and the investigation was subsequently closed.) Netanyahu, however, soon informed Deri the post would be his.
Deri, who first became interior minister at the age of 29, served just under two years in prison beginning in 2000, followed by a mandatory seven years away from politics under the “moral turpitude” law for convicted politicians.
Deri will keep his current portfolio, the Ministry of Negev, Galilee and the Periphery, which he took after quitting the post of economy minister in November over the controversial natural gas reform being advanced by the prime minister. Deri refused to use the economy minister’s legal powers to approve the deal, but promised Netanyahu he “won’t stand in its way.”
Many pundits interpreted Deri’s acceptance of the Negev, Galilee and Periphery Ministry as a stop-gap position before a more senior post could be arranged for the leader of a coalition-member party.
Netanyahu asked for a legal opinion from Attorney General Yehuda Weinstein to ensure there were no legal impediments to Deri’s appointment. That approval came last week, clearing the way for Sunday’s cabinet vote to approve the new minister. The Knesset will vote on the appointment later this week.