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Speaker to delay successor’s appointment, slowing new coalition swearing-in – report

Outgoing government reportedly seeking to maintain control of legislative agenda, frustrating Likud-led bloc’s plan to pass law to allow convicted Deri to hold portfolio

Knesset Speaker Mickey Levy is seen during voting to dissolve parliament for new elections, on June 30, 2022. (Olivier Fitoussi/Flash90)
Knesset Speaker Mickey Levy is seen during voting to dissolve parliament for new elections, on June 30, 2022. (Olivier Fitoussi/Flash90)

Knesset Speaker Mickey Levy reportedly plans to hold up the appointment of his successor, a move that could, in turn, delay the swearing-in of a Likud-led coalition.

The right-wing bloc had reportedly planned to replace Levy quickly in order to gain control of the parliament’s legislative agenda and quickly pass several key laws, including legislation that would allow the appointment of Shas leader Aryeh Deri as a minister despite his recent criminal conviction.

Without such legislation, the parties in Benjamin Netanyahu’s right-religious bloc will not be able to swear in a new government with Deri.

According to an unsourced Saturday report by the Kan public broadcaster, Yesh Atid’s Levy was planning to delay the appointment of a new speaker for at least a week from when he first receives the request.

When asked for comment by Kan, Levy’s office said that a request to put the election of a new speaker on the Knesset’s agenda had not been received.

Earlier this month, Channel 12 reported that Likud hoped to appoint key Netanyahu ally Yariv Levin temporarily to the speaker role, but the plan was being delayed by the far-right Religious Zionism leader Bezalel Smotrich.

Shas leader Aryeh Deri arrives to cast his vote in the elections in Jerusalem, on November 1, 2022 (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

Smotrich reportedly slowed the process in an attempt to strengthen his own hand in ongoing coalition negotiations with Netanyahu’s Likud. The Religious Zionism party denied they had been asked to support the move.

According to a Channel 12 report last week, one of two Likud lawmakers — Yoav Kisch or Ofir Akunis — will be permanently appointed to the role.

Deri’s January criminal conviction was the second of his political career.

The law bars individuals sentenced to prison time from serving as ministers for seven years. In a plea deal, Deri received a 12-month suspended sentence.

Attorney General Gali Baharav-Miara told Netanyahu that while Deri had received a suspended sentence, the matter of whether his crime involved moral turpitude had not been decided by the court and therefore a decision needed to be made by the Central Elections Committee.

Attorney General Gali Baharav-Miara attends a conference in Tel Aviv, July 5, 2022 (Avshalom Sassoni/Flash90)

The attorney general said that Deri would still be permitted to serve as a member of the Knesset.

By resigning from parliament before he signed the controversial deal with Baharav-Miara’s predecessor, Deri was able to dodge a conviction of moral turpitude.

Likud and Shas had attempted to find a way around the issue of Deri potentially not being allowed to serve as a minister. According to a Channel 12 report, Deri approached one of Netanyahu’s former attorneys, Navot Tel-Zur, and requested that he draft a legal opinion maintaining that only individuals who were actually jailed are barred from serving as ministers, as opposed to those who were handed suspended sentences.

In her letter to Netanyahu, Baharav-Miara informed him that she did not accept that legal opinion and that the Basic Law referred to both suspended sentences and those with time served.

Likud party chairman Benjamin Netanyahu gives a statement after President Isaac Herzog tasks him with forming a new government, at the President’s Residence in Jerusalem, on November 13, 2022. (Menahem Kahana / AFP)

Ostensibly unconvinced that the alternative route would work, Shas MK Moshe Arbel has already drafted a bill to change clause six of Basic Law: Government, which would allow those who were given suspended sentences to receive ministerial appointments.

The bill will likely face legal challenges, but Shas and other parties of Netanyahu’s likely coalition are also pushing to pass separate legislation that would allow the Knesset to override decisions by the High Court of Justice.

In addition to his January conviction, Deri previously served 22 months in prison from 2000 to 2002, after he was convicted of taking bribes while serving as interior minister. That verdict carried a conviction of moral turpitude, keeping him out of national politics.

In 2013, he returned to politics, reclaiming the leadership of Shas and ultimately returning to serve as interior minister from 2016 until last year, when his party entered the opposition. A court had ruled that his prior conviction did not disqualify him from the position.

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