Report: Netanyahu plans radical legislative blitz to enable Deri to become minister

Channel 12 says prospective coalition may try to pass court override bill, then change law to allow Shas chief, barred from ministerial role due to tax offenses, to take office

Michael Bachner is a news editor at The Times of Israel

Likud leader Benjamin Netanyahu and Shas chief Aryeh Deri at the swearing-in ceremony of the 25th Knesset, at the parliament building in Jerusalem, November 15, 2022. (Olivier Fitoussi/ Flash90)
Likud leader Benjamin Netanyahu and Shas chief Aryeh Deri at the swearing-in ceremony of the 25th Knesset, at the parliament building in Jerusalem, November 15, 2022. (Olivier Fitoussi/ Flash90)

Likud leader Benjamin Netanyahu’s incoming coalition is reportedly planning a lightning legislative blitz even before the government is sworn in — including the passage of a highly controversial High Court override law — with the aim of enabling twice-convicted Shas party leader Aryeh Deri to become a minister within the next few weeks, according to a Tuesday report.

Netanyahu is seen as intent on appointing Deri to a senior ministerial post — likely finance or defense. However, under current law, Deri’s tax offense conviction earlier this year, which included a suspended jail sentence, makes that difficult. Deri will need to appeal to the Central Elections Committee to approve his appointment, and the latter could refuse.

Therefore, according to Channel 12 news, the far-reaching plan taking shape would see the right-wing bloc replace the Knesset speaker next week in order to gain control of the Knesset’s legislative agenda, then quickly pass a highly contentious law enabling parliament to override rulings by the High Court of Justice.

After that, the reported plan is to change current law so that a person handed a suspended sentence can be appointed to a ministerial role. If the High Court were to then strike down the law, the Knesset could use the override clause to overrule it.

The report said the plan was to do all this in time to appoint Deri alongside other ministers in the coming weeks.

It remained unclear whether such a highly ambitious plan could truly be carried out quickly, with Netanyahu having until December 14 to swear in a government (though a two-week extension can be granted by President Isaac Herzog). Various steps of the plan are likely to be challenged in court, and the timeline may prove too tight.

Additionally, the court override law will likely face intense backlash from critics who say it will neuter the judiciary and upend Israel’s democratic system of checks and balances, giving the legislature excessive powers — especially if the Knesset will be allowed to nullify rulings by Israel’s top court with a majority of a single vote.

Attempting to pass the legislation through quickly could therefore lead to intense public backlash as Netanyahu seeks to assure the public that his new hardline government will not be a radical one.

Former MK Aryeh Deri, leader of the Shas party, arrives for a hearing at the Jerusalem Magistrate’s Court on January 25, 2022. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

Deri inked a plea deal in December 2021 to resolve tax offenses connected to real estate transactions. As part of the deal, he agreed to admit to not paying income taxes on an apartment sale and making false statements, resigned from the Knesset, and received a NIS 180,000 ($56,000) fine and a 12-month suspended sentence.

By resigning from the Knesset before his eventual conviction, Deri avoided the court having to discuss whether to apply a designation of moral turpitude, which would have banned him from the Knesset for seven years.

During sentencing, the judge said that Deri “voluntarily withdraws himself from dealing with public needs.”

“Anyone who is worried about the accused and his damage to the public treasury and claims that he presents a danger there will be able to put this fear to rest and say with certainty that the accused will no longer touch on the public’s needs that involve financial pursuits, and this is due to his distancing himself from the public arena,” the judge said at the time.

But Deri showed little willingness to shy away from public life. Shortly after the sentencing, Deri took up a Knesset office belonging to one of his party members and resumed control of Shas’s agenda in the parliament and in the media despite not being an MK himself. Moreover, the plea deal did not prevent Deri from running for office in the next election — which ended up being brought forward considerably.

Because Deri was not convicted of moral turpitude, the Central Elections Committee could not disqualify him from running in the election. However, by law, even a suspended sentence is enough to bar a candidate from a ministerial or deputy minister position, unless the elections committee permits him to do so.

Aryeh Deri at the Supreme Court in Jerusalem on September 24, 2003. (Nati Shochat/Flash90)

The 2021 conviction was Deri’s second major brush with the law, after a 1999 conviction for bribery and breach of trust for actions taken while interior minister, which landed Deri with 22 months in prison and a political timeout via the designation of moral turpitude. Deri returned to politics and was reelected to the Shas list in 2013, becoming party leader again two years later.

In September, Deri said that High Court rulings don’t necessarily need to be obeyed, telling the Kan public broadcaster: “You don’t have to carry out court rulings, with all due respect.”

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