Replacing Deri, Shas appoints Moshe Arbel to head health, interior ministries

Haredi party’s Council of Torah Sages says decision a temporary one until Knesset approves legislation permitting Deri to return to role despite his criminal convictions

MK Moshe Arbel arrives for the opening session of the Knesset in Jerusalem on November 15, 2022 (Olivier Fitoussi/Flash90)
MK Moshe Arbel arrives for the opening session of the Knesset in Jerusalem on November 15, 2022 (Olivier Fitoussi/Flash90)

Shas MK Moshe Arbel was tapped to replace party leader Aryeh Deri as both health and interior minister on Monday after Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu was forced to remove Deri from his ministerial positions by the High Court of Justice in January.

In a letter signed by Rabbi Moshe Maya, a member of Shas’s Council of Torah Sages, Deri’s removal from his position is described as “scandalous,” and the council promises to continue to push for his reinstatement to the ministries.

In his place, the letter said that Arbel, 39, who is currently deputy minister in the health and interior ministries, would be appointed minister, until Deri, “an emissary from God and from our sages,” is permitted to return.

“[Shas] MKs and colleagues in the coalition will work to advance legislation that will permit Deri to be reappointed to his role,” the letter said, describing Deri’s disqualification as “unjust.”

Deri was convicted of bribery during his first stint as interior minister in the late 1990s and sentenced to prison. In 2022, he was handed a suspended sentence after agreeing to a plea deal relating to tax offenses.

Since the High Court found Deri’s twin appointments as health and interior minister “unreasonable in the extreme,” given his recidivism, the coalition has been advancing legislation that would allow Netanyahu to reappoint him.

Shas chief Aryeh Deri leads a Knesset faction meeting on February 6, 2023. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

The court also ruled that the principle of estoppel barred Deri from ministerial office, because in his January 2022 plea bargain he gave the Jerusalem Magistrate’s Court the impression he was quitting politics permanently in order to secure the deal.

Deri denies that he ever committed to permanently retiring from political life.

A bill barring the courts from intervening in ministerial appointments, which has passed its first reading in the Knesset, was paused along with the rest of the Netanyahu government’s controversial judicial overhaul legislation.

Since Deri was sacked by a reluctant Netanyahu, his ministerial roles have been filled on a temporary basis by Yoav Ben-Tzur in the Health Ministry and Michael Malkieli in the Interior Ministry.

However, temporary appointees can only fill the role for a maximum of three months, prompting Shas to appoint Arbel.

Times of Israel staff contributed to this report. 

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