Israel’s top court ruled 10-1 on Wednesday that Aryeh Deri, leader of the Shas party and a key ally of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, should not be allowed to serve as interior minister because of a February 2022 conviction for tax fraud.
Netanyahu should remove Deri from his post, the court ruling said. Such a move would risk plunging the country into a constitutional crisis.
Deri’s Shas party – which won 11 seats in Israel’s 120-seat parliament, the Knesset, in November and is a key component of Netanyahu’s coalition – immediately hit back, calling the court decision “arbitrary and unprecedented.”
The Sephardi religious party said the court “today threw away the voices and votes of 400,000 voters of the Shas movement.”
“Today the court actually ruled that the elections are meaningless. The court’s decision is political and tainted,” the party said.
The High Court had been asked to consider a change in Israeli law that allowed Deri to serve in government despite his tax fraud conviction. Judges ruled that his appointment “cannot stand.”
“This is, among other things, due to his backlog of criminal convictions,” and his failure to retire from public life as he said he would do when being sentenced in the tax fraud case.
Deri was a member of the Knesset at the time of his tax fraud conviction last year.
He resigned as a lawmaker rather than giving the head of the election commission a chance to rule on whether the conviction disqualified him from serving as a minister.
Deri allies have been signaling this week that the Shas party leader would not resign his ministerial post even if the court ruling went against him.
His refusal to resign – or Netanyahu’s refusal to sack him – potentially sets up a constitutional crisis pitting the government against the High Court.
Netanyahu’s governing coalition relies on Shas’s 11 seats, therefore dismissing Deri would plunge the government into crisis.
This is a developing story, more to come…