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Shas leader Aryeh Deri says High Court rulings can be ignored

Twice-convicted ultra-Orthodox party leader laments court’s intervention in Knesset law as causing ‘confusion’ in the public

Shas Head Aryeh Deri at a Kikar HaShabbat conference in the Waldorf Astoria Jerusalem Hotel, September 12, 2022. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)
Shas Head Aryeh Deri at a Kikar HaShabbat conference in the Waldorf Astoria Jerusalem Hotel, September 12, 2022. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

Shas party leader Aryeh Deri said Monday that High Court rulings don’t necessarily need to be obeyed.

Deri, who earlier this year admitted to tax offenses — his second criminal conviction — and resigned from the Knesset as part of a plea deal, is set to return to parliament after the coming elections.

The lawmaker spoke to Kan news about his ultra-Orthodox party’s aspirations to be part of the next government, including pushing back against what he sees as the secularization of the country.

At one point, he remarked on the contentious issue of the High Court of Justice allowing hospital visitors to bring in hametz (non-kosher food) on Passover. In April, Health Minister Nitzan Horotwitz’s instruction to Israel’s medical centers to comply with the 2020 ruling sparked coalition clashes.

“You don’t have to carry out court rulings, with all due respect,” Deri said, after explaining he will seek to reverse the instruction.

Though recognizing the need for “a strong Supreme Court and courts to carry out judgments and bring order,” Deri said the courts must not be involved in “controversial issues that are under the authority of the Knesset, to cancel Knesset laws and government decisions.”

Such intervention has caused “great confusion” among the public, he claimed, and by doing so the courts were undermining elections.

“Look how much we all invest to get to elections and in the end, it turns out that everything we worked for and the public voted for is useless. If the court decides [matters] instead of me, why did [the public] elect us?” he said.

Deri argued that Israel’s Jewish identity should stand above its democratic character.

“We are Jewish first and foremost,” he said. “First of all Judaism and Jews.”

Shas is in the right-wing religious bloc of parties led by opposition leader and Likud chief MK Benjamin Netanyahu. The bloc and its supporters have long accused Israel’s judiciary of a left-wing agenda that abuses its authority to intervene in Knesset legislation.

Shas party leader Aryeh Deri announces he will not be leaving public life, a day after he was sentenced for tax offenses, during a press conference at the Knesset, in Jerusalem, on February 2, 2022. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

Last Thursday, Shas submitted its slate for the coming November 1 elections, with Deri in first place.

Deri had 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. By resigning from the Knesset before his eventual conviction, Deri did not face 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 there he presents a danger 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.

However, the deal did not prevent Deri from running for office in the next election — which was since moved up to the coming November, and he continued to lead Shas from outside the Knesset even after his resignation.

Because Deri was not convicted of moral turpitude, the Central Elections Committee cannot disqualify him from running. 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.

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 time out via the designation of moral turpitude. Deri returned to politics and was reelected to the Shas list in 2013.

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