This is a difficult article to write. I’m not particularly eager to take a position that is unpopular in the orthodox community. Still, when I see a chillul Hashem happening and no one saying anything about it, I feel I must raise my voice and protest. I don’t know what, if any, effect it will have, but I hope my readers have some way to influence that something positive can come from this matter.
In an article published just a week ago, I expressed my concerns despite the great opportunity the new Israeli government presented for positive developments for the cause of Torah in Israel. I worried that corruption might rear its ugly head and cause a chillul Hashem.
Unfortunately, I didn’t have to wait too long. As I write on Motzaei Shabbat, over 100,000 people are demonstrating in Tel Aviv (and thousands more in other locations) against the new government. That alone would not trouble me in the slightest; it was very predictable that the secular leftist portion of the Israeli citizenry is angry and frightened to see that the political right and the religious parties are assuming the reins of power they used to hold. It is their democratic right to protest even though they distort the issues, and it is the role of the right and the religious parties to act with fairness and resolute strength in ways that will garner their respect in the long run.
One of the things that disturbs them most is the proposed long-overdue judicial reforms that seek to overturn the excesses introduced by then Chief Justice Aharon Barak, which granted the Supreme Court unbridled power far beyond that of any other court in the world. The Israeli Supreme Court justices can insert themselves into any dispute they wish, make decisions based on their own opinion of “reasonableness,” and control the selection of new justices so that an elitist leftist court will always be in power. Supporting those reforms and arguing against the abusive power of the Supreme Court was obvious to me, until Wednesday.
On Wednesday, the Supreme Court, in a 10-1 decision, ruled that the appointments of Aryeh Deri as Minister of the Interior and Minister of Health and Alternate Prime Minister were unreasonable “in the extreme,” given his conviction on tax fraud in February 2022 (and conviction and prison sentence for bribery and tax fraud in 1993). The decision was based both on the unreasonableness doctrine and Deri’s fraudulent statement. Less than one year ago, as part of a plea bargain to avoid a ruling of moral turpitude that would have pushed him out of politics, he promised the Jerusalem Magistrate’s Court that he would leave politics of his own volition. The court accepted that promise and lessened his sentence. The plea read, “Deri, a former member of Knesset and former minister, is retiring from politics and turning to public work outside the Knesset and government.” He has now totally reneged on that commitment, which prompted the Supreme Court review of his fitness to serve as a minister.
Once the decision came down, the attorney general and the heads of the opposition insisted that Deri immediately resign or that PM Netanyahu fire him. Deri’s response? I will not resign. “Four Hundred Thousand people voted for me knowing the history; I will not let them down.”
That evening, there was a parade of politicians and rabbis who all came to Deri’s home to offer him support. One after the other, all of these great rabbis made statements to the effect of how Deri is a hero, and he has done so much for his fellow Jews, and how we will prevail over the wicked dictatorial Supreme Court who seek only to harm the cause of Torah.
Living where I do in a predominantly Sephardic community, mostly Shas voters, I asked my friends and neighbors how they view this development. The response of most of them was that (a) Deri is an incredibly talented and resourceful politician who has done enormous good for our community; there is no one like him, (b) his whole conviction was a set up and entrapment – any regular person who had been charged with the same actions would have been let off with a slap on the wrist and small fine. They’re just out to get him, just like they take advantage of all Sephardim, and (c) the great rabbi said to vote for him and, therefore, supporting him is consistent with daas Torah.
There is no question that there is a tremendous amount of prejudice against Sephardim in Israel in general and in the orthodox community as well, most unfortunately. And it is true that Shas in general, and Aryeh Deri in particular, have done a tremendous amount of much-needed work to correct this injustice over many years. Indeed that is the source of the power of Shas – they successfully tapped into the feelings of those who have felt slighted and discriminated against in Israeli society.
However, I cannot help but look at these developments and imagine how your average secular Israeli observes what is happening. I’m not talking about someone already predisposed to hate religious people; I believe they are a small minority. I think of an average secular person who is already annoyed that the religious parties are flexing their muscles and taking over much of the power in the country. Now, they have real ammunition for their claims. The leader of the largest religious party reneges on his promises, refuses to accept the court decision, and threatens to bring down the entire government if he does not retain his personal power. They see a recidivist tax fraud who was vying to be the finance minister no less, and then “graciously” agreed to accept the interior and health ministries as well as being alternate Prime Minister in his raw exercise of political muscle. They see how he now refuses to accept the authority of the law of the Supreme Court and is willing to bring down the government.
How do you think such people look at this? How do you think they look at the parade of leading Torah sages saying that Deri is a hero and a victim and that the Supreme Court decision is wicked and biased that should be ignored? How do they look at all of the religious Jews supporting this politically powerful man who was convicted twice of fraud because of the benefits that he will be able to wrangle out of the government for them? How is this not a tremendous chillul Hashem?
No one knows how this will end and what kind of twisted logic will be used to keep Deri in power and prevent the government from falling. All I know is that it makes me embarrassed to be an orthodox Jew and to be associated with such slimy politics. May heaven help us.