Shas party leader resigns from Knesset, remains minister

Aryeh Deri says move will give him more time to focus on interior and rural development portfolios, other cabinet duties

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

Shas party leader and Interior Minister Aryeh Deri, right, presents his letter of resignation from the Knesset to Knesset Speaker MK Yuli Edelstein, October 31, 2016. (Knesset spokesperson)
Shas party leader and Interior Minister Aryeh Deri, right, presents his letter of resignation from the Knesset to Knesset Speaker MK Yuli Edelstein, October 31, 2016. (Knesset spokesperson)

Interior Minister Aryeh Deri resigned Monday from the Knesset, explaining that he wanted to focus more time on his ministerial and cabinet duties without the distractions of parliamentary work.

He presented his letter of resignation to Knesset Speaker Yuli Edelstein after announcing his intentions during his Shas faction’s weekly meeting earlier in the day.

Deri will remain the Shas party’s chairman as well as minister for the development of the Negev and the Galilee.

“I have decided to resign from the Knesset for the benefit of younger blood,” he said during the faction meeting. “My duties as minister of the interior and of the periphery, the Negev, and the Galilee, and also as chairman of Shas and a member of the cabinet take up a lot of time.”

Deri said that his Knesset seat will be taken up by Michael Michaeli, a former Jerusalem city council member.

The parliamentary move does not fall under the so-called Norwegian Law, which allows one minister or deputy minister from a party to leave parliament, and still hold on to a ministerial post. The faction can then bring in another member to take up the Knesset seat, effectively granting government ministers’ parties a stronger presence in the halls of power.

A minister who resigns from the Knesset does not give up any parliamentary rights — such as immunity from prosecution — or wages.

The entry of a fresh lawmaker costs the state about NIS 1.3 million ($328,000) annually for salaries, three assistants, a car and other expenses

Shas already used the procedure when MK Meshulam Nahari resigned his seat in January 2016, when he was appointed deputy interior minister. His Knesset seat was taken up by MK Yigal Guetta.

Ministers who give up their Knesset seats under the so-called Norwegian Law can return to serve as in the parliament instead of their replacements, in the event that they lose their ministerial position — for example, if the government falls. Since parties can only activate the Norwegian Law for one minister at a time, were the Netanyahu coalition to fall or lose Shas, Deri would be out of a job.

Still, he noted that he was unconcerned. “If you want, you can see the move as my belief of in the stability of the government,” he said. “I think it will not fall.”

Other parties have applied the Norwegian Law. In October 2015, Education Minister Naftali Bennett resigned his Knesset seat, making way for Shuli Moalem-Refaeli to enter the legislature. Bennett later returned to the Knesset when Yinon Magal resigned in November amid allegations of sexual harassment.

The law, which was passed last year, takes its name from Norwegian legislation mandating all government ministers resign their seat in the parliament. The process is intended to create a separation of powers between the executive and the legislature.

Under current law, serving cabinet ministers are not allowed to serve as Knesset speakers or deputy speakers, to sit on committees or even to propose bills. Ministers are not required to be Knesset members, save for the prime minister.

By definition, the legislative manpower problem is felt most acutely by the ruling coalition, which must conduct its parliamentary work without the lawmakers serving in cabinet posts and in deputy ministerial positions. The 59-seat opposition suffers no such pressures.

Times of Israel staff contributed to this report.

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