Shas chief: If judges bar me from being a minister, we’ll legislate to overrule them

Aryeh Deri, who has a suspended sentence for tax offenses, vows that a new Netanyahu coalition will also pass a law more widely enabling it to override High Court rulings

Michael Horovitz is a breaking news editor at The Times of Israel

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 promised on Saturday that a government under opposition leader Benjamin Netanyahu would pass a bill to enable it to overrule High Court decisions, and said he would ensure the passage of legislation permitting him to become a minister, despite his criminal convictions, if justices were to rule against it.

Speaking to Channel 12’s “Meet the Press,” Deri said Israeli law allowed him to serve as a minister, while threatening Knesset legislation to overturn any High Court of Justice decision seeking to prevent him from doing so.

“Israel’s law says I can serve as a minister. The High Court needs to rule according to the law,” he said.

As part of a plea deal earlier this year, Deri admitted to tax offenses, received a 12-month suspended sentence and resigned from the Knesset, avoiding a designation of moral turpitude, which would have banned him from the Knesset for seven years.

The deal does not prevent him from reentering the Knesset in the next election. However, by law, even a suspended sentence is enough to bar a candidate from serving as a ministerial or deputy minister, unless the elections committee permits him to do so.

The head of the committee is Supreme Court Justice Isaac Amit.

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 following a left-wing agenda, and abusing its authority to intervene in Knesset legislation.

A view of the Supreme Court building in Jerusalem. (Shmuel Bar-Am)

Deri expressed confidence that Netanyahu’s Likud party and its allies would win the required 61 seats in the Knesset to form a coalition following the November 1 elections, and promised that such a government would take steps to curb the ability of the High Court to shoot down parliamentary legislation.

“If Aryeh Deri, Benjamin Netanyahu, [Bezalel] Smotrich, and [Itamar] Ben Gvir establish the next government there will be an override clause,” he said, referring to a long-proposed law that would allow the Knesset to override court decisions under certain conditions.

Justice Minister Gideon Sa’ar blasted the comments, warning that a future coalition under Netanyahu would aim to destroy the justice system.

“To whoever still has a doubt — reform of the justice system is not on the agenda [under Netanyahu], but rather its destruction,” Sa’ar, a former Likud minister who has become one of his ex-boss’s staunchest critics, wrote on Twitter.

Prime Minister Yair Lapid’s Yesh Atid party responded: “Aryeh Deri has learned Netanyahu’s method: If the justice system does not rule in your favor, terrorize and demolish it with a bulldozer.”

Addressing ideological differences he has with potential far-right coalition partner Itamar Ben Gvir, Deri was adamant that they would be able to deal with their disagreements, and that these were insignificant compared to the disagreements he has with left-wing and centrist parties.

Opposition leader MK Benjamin Netanyahu speaks with then-MK Aryeh Deri during a Knesset session, November 4, 2021. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

Interviewers noted that Ben Gvir, of Religious Zionism-Otzman Yehudit, strongly favors Jewish visits to the Temple Mount in Jerusalem’s Old City, while the Shas leader is opposed to them. Ultra-Orthodox leaders generally oppose the trips, believing the holiness of the site precludes setting foot there.

“When the alternative is a government of Lapid with Meretz, Labor and others, who have done what they’ve done this past year to harm the Jewish identity of the state… I prefer him, with all due respect,” Deri said of Ben Gvir.

Deri’s 2021 conviction was his 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.

Times of Israel staff contributed to this report.

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