Shas minister ahead of court ruling: ‘PM knows there’s no government without Deri’

Welfare Minister Margi says Netanyahu will ‘need to make decision,’ while Likud’s Karhi says ruling against party leader would be ‘shameless’

Shas's Ya'akov Margi (L) with party leader Aryeh Deri in Jerusalem on January 1, 2023 (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)
Shas's Ya'akov Margi (L) with party leader Aryeh Deri in Jerusalem on January 1, 2023 (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

A senior member of Shas warned Wednesday that if Aryeh Deri will be disqualified from serving as a minister, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu understands that it will jeopardize the continued existence of his government, as lawmakers from the Haredi party sprang to their leader’s defense.

Welfare Minister Ya’akov Margi told the Kan public broadcaster that “Netanyahu knows that if Aryeh Deri is not in the government, there is no government.”

According to reports, the High Court of Justice is expected to say that Netanyahu’s appointment of Deri as interior and health minister in the new government is “extremely unreasonable” in light of Deri’s three past convictions, including one last year for tax offenses that landed him a suspended sentence.

The High Court’s decision is to be published Wednesday afternoon.

Margi was asked whether Deri would resign if the High Court were to disqualify him from serving as a minster.

“Why would he resign?” Margi responded.

Asked whether he thought Netanyahu would fire the Shas leader from the government, Margi said that “the prime minister will need to make a decision.”

Justice Minister Yariv Levin (L), Interior Minister Aryeh Deri (2nd L), Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Tzahi Braverman (R) at the cabinet meeting in Jerusalem, January 8, 2023 (Amos Ben-Gershom/GPO)

Margi noted that while it was not ultimately his decision to bring down the government, he would make a recommendation to Shas’s Council of Torah Sages.

If Deri refuses to resign, it will likely fall to Netanyahu to fire him. Should the prime minister, who is himself on trial in a trio of graft cases, refuse to do so, the unprecedented rejection of the ruling would likely prompt fresh petitions to the High Court demanding he be compelled to dismiss Deri, his most senior coalition partner.

Deri has reportedly made clear to his associates that even if the court rules against him, he will not resign.

According to the Ynet news site, unnamed lawmakers from Netanyahu’s Likud party said that the premier does not intend to defy the High Court ruling, meaning that Deri — a loyal partner to Netanyahu for a number of years — could be out of the government, potentially creating a coalition crisis with Shas holding 11 of the coalition’s 64 seats.

Communications Minister Shlomo Karhi of Likud compared the potential ruling on Deri with a fictitious scenario in which the nation’s top court ruled that Chief Justice Esther Hayut would be prime minister for eternity.

“Would we not protect our democracy?” Karhi tweeted. “This is a shameless and unauthorized decision.”

Communications Minister Shlomo Karhi attends a digital journalism conference at Reichman University in Herzliya, January 9, 2023. (Avshalom Sassoni/Flash90)

Shas MK Avraham Bezalel told Ynet that “anyone who does not want Deri as a minister will instead get him as prime minister.”

“He can be alternate prime minister and we can cancel the law,” Bezalel said.

The High Court petitions argue that Deri’s 2022 conviction, coupled with a conviction in 1999 on bribery charges for which he served prison time, makes his appointment as minister “unreasonable.”

If the court does rule against him, the coalition reportedly hopes to pass a law within two months or so to allow Deri to return as a minister.

Shas MK Avraham Bezalel at the Knesset plenum in Jerusalem ahead of the opening session of the 25th Knesset, November 14, 2022. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

On Tuesday, Bezalel said a decision by the court to disqualify Deri would be tantamount to its justices “shooting themselves in the head.”

Bezalel made the apparently threatening remarks during an interview with the Knesset Channel in which he seemingly alluded to plans by the hardline government to overhaul the judiciary — including by canceling the court’s right to invoke the legal “reasonableness” measure expected to be used against Deri, as well as giving the coalition the power to appoint justices, radically limit the court’s power to strike down legislation, and appoint ministries’ legal advisers.

“I think that in the end, if [the judges] rule to disqualify him, they are shooting themselves, even in the head I’d say,” Bezalel said.

Asked whether his remarks were intended as a threat to the High Court justices, he said: “I don’t think this is threatening at all. I have no doubt this is on the table.” He didn’t clarify those remarks.

Later Tuesday, following a public outcry over his remarks, Bezalel said that his words had been misunderstood.

In a faction meeting Monday, Deri asked Shas MKs to escalate their rhetoric against the possibility that he will be disqualified and to highlight that such a ruling would “harm [Shas] voters, not me,” according to Hebrew media reports.

However, on Tuesday he reportedly told his lawmakers to keep a low profile, and called on them to cancel any planned media interviews.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu with Minister of the Interior and Health Aryeh Deri during the swearing-in ceremony of the new government at the Knesset, on December 29, 2022. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

A poll this month indicated that less than a quarter of Israelis support Deri’s appointment. The Channel 12 survey found 65 percent of respondents opposed it, 22% supported it, and 13% were unsure.

Among supporters of Netanyahu’s bloc, 43% said it was not appropriate for Deri to serve as a minister, while 42% said it was.

Michael Bachner contributed to this report. 

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