Shas leader vows party will back Netanyahu for PM, even if he’s indicted

Interior Minister Aryeh Deri, who is also under suspicion of corruption, says prime minister can continue to lead the country ‘as long as the law permits’ it

Stuart Winer is a breaking news editor at The Times of Israel.

Interior Minister Aryeh Deri, center, at meeting to launch his Shas Party's election campaign, January 22, 2019. (Shas Party)
Interior Minister Aryeh Deri, center, at meeting to launch his Shas Party's election campaign, January 22, 2019. (Shas Party)

Interior Minister Aryeh Deri on Tuesday said his Shas party will support Benjamin Netanyahu for prime minister after the upcoming April elections, even if the Israeli leader is indicted in any of the three corruption cases against him.

Speaking at a meeting to launch the ultra-Orthodox Shas party’s election campaign, Deri said Netanyahu can stay in office as long as he legally allowed to — which some have argued may be until he is convicted.

“We completely support Benjamin Netanyahu and will recommend only him for prime minister,” Deri said, “even if there is an indictment, as long as the law permits him.”

Deri said his party, which has been part of every Netanyahu-led government but one, had been the prime minister’s “most faithful and secure partners.”

“We did not threaten him or turn on him. We were more faithful partners to him than some of the Likud members,” he said.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, right, speaks with Interior Minister Aryeh Deri during a plenum session in the Knesset, January 11, 2016. (Miriam Alster/Flash90)

Netanyahu is facing a possible indictment in three separate cases. Likud is reportedly seeking possible allies to commit to backing Netanyahu should he be re-elected prime minister after April 9 elections and indicted afterward.

The attorney general has not ruled on whether a prime minister must step down if charged on corruption allegations.

Netanyahu has vowed not to step down if Attorney General Avichai Mandelblit announces that he intends to indict him, pending a hearing, in any of the cases against him, asserting that the law does not require him to do so.

He is seeking for Mandelblit to hold off on any announcement of intention to indict until after elections.

Attorney General Avichai Mandelblit attends a State Control committee meeting in the Knesset on December 3, 2018. (Miriam Alster/Flash90)

Netanyahu denies any wrongdoing and has blamed the investigations against him on a “witch hunt” by the left, the media and the police, whom he claims are relentlessly pressuring Mandelblit to prosecute him.

Deri himself has been jailed in the past on a corruption conviction and is facing a possible fresh indictment on a slew of corruption charges.

Police said in November there was evidence to prosecute Deri on fraud, breach of trust, obstructing court proceedings, money laundering, and tax offenses involving millions of shekels, some of which happened while he was a cabinet minister.

The Shas leader on Tuesday also rejected the notion that his party, which has dropped considerably in the polls, had run its course. Shas’s electoral base is made up largely of ultra-Orthodox Sephardic Jews of Middle Eastern descent. Recent surveys have shown the party failing to cross the electoral threshold.

“For 30 years, the Sephardic community took care of itself and it will continue. I don’t want to think about what will happen to our public if they don’t have Shas representatives. They will be forgotten and invisible,” said

Raoul Wootliff contributed to this report.

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