Photo Credit: Yonatan Sindel / Flash 90
Shas Chairman Aryeh Deri, July 26, 2022.

Shas senior officials told Reshet Bet radio on Monday that until a law is passed allowing their party chairman Aryeh Deri to be appointed minister, there would be no swearing-in of a new government with Shas in it. Shas holds 11 seats in the new Knesset, the second-largest intact faction in Benjamin Netanyahu’s right-wing coalition.

Attorney General Gali Beharev-Miara published an opinion designed to thwart Deri’s appointment. At this point, the disagreement between herself and Deri’s attorney is over the interpretation of Section 6(c) of the Basic Law: The Government, which establishes two cumulative conditions for the disqualification of Deri’s appointment: the first is the existence of disgrace in the tax offense for which Deri was convicted; the second is his prison sentence. The AG believes that a sentence of imprisonment that would disqualify Deri includes conditional imprisonment, namely probation.


Deri’s lawyer, Navot Tel-Zur, claims the opposite: “A suspended sentence does not fall within the scope of the term ‘imprisonment.'”

Deri was sentenced to 12 months probation for three years.

Then there’s Deri’s commitment to the court not to return to public life. Indeed, he resigned from the Knesset on the eve of the sentencing, so technically he was a private citizen when facing the judge on February 1, 2022.

There appears to be a gap between the actual sentence and the judge’s opinion over whether or not Deri may resume his political career in the next Knesset. This is because the Judge did not even consider the possibility that Deri who stood before him hat-in-hand (metaphorically) had any such intent. And so, the sentence reads:

1. Twelve (12) months of actual imprisonment which will not be served unless the defendant commits one of the offenses for which he was convicted, and that within three years from today (in other words, probation – DI).

2. A fine of NIS 180,000 ($53,000) or a year in prison in exchange. The fine will be paid in 20 equal and consecutive payments of NIS 9,000, the first of which on May 1, 2022, and the remainder on every Sunday of the following month.

No mention of ending Deri’s political career, see? But in his opinion, Jerusalem District Court Judge Shmuel Herbst wrote clearly:

“The plea notice shows that the defendant decided to resign from the Knesset. On the face of it, this message is not related to the criminal procedure, it has nothing to say about this criminal sanction or another in the plea arrangement, which raises the question – why then, was this section included and what does it come to teach us?”

The judge answered his own question: “…This is an important stipulation that teaches two important points about the accused.

“The first, the defendant, a public figure for many years, now voluntarily withdraws from engaging in public affairs. His broad considerations are not laid out in front of me, but it seems that his life history shows that he saw being an elected official as a vocation and a way of life, and now given the present case and his charges – he is giving it up, and this is of his own free will.

“It is not an easy sacrifice for someone who has positioned himself as a public servant in recent decades and it seems that the accuser herself is hinting that she sees this as part of the punishment that the accused imposed on himself.

“The second point is preventive in nature.

“Anyone who fears the accused and his damage to the public treasury, and claims that there is a danger in him concerning all of his dealings with the public or the individual finances – can rest assured with certainty that the accused will no longer touch public affairs that involve financial pursuits, and this is due to his distancing himself from the public arena.”

Anyone who read the judge’s opinion last February came away with the impression that Aryeh Deri had been exiled from public life and promised not to return, ever. But here he is again, having delivered his party’s greatest election victory in years.

What to do, what to do? Shas insists that the law must be changed ahead of the swearing-in of the new government, to determine specifically that probation does not mean “imprisonment.” Everything else about Judge Herbst’s assumptions regarding Deri’s leaving public life is immaterial since the judge failed to include it in his sentence.

This is going to cost Netanyahu a lot of public humiliation: the legislative process requires four votes in the plenum which, at this point, is run by Yesh Atid Knesset Speaker Mickey Levy. Without a government in place, Likud can’t appoint one of its own to run the Knesset. Speaker Levy is absolutely certain to heap as much scorn as he can during this process, and under the circumstances, this may or may not end with the law being amended. On the other hand, replacing Levy will require more time, and Netanyahu wants to be done with his task as early as possible.

Bezalel Smotrich, for his part, who is not yet signed in as a member of Netanyahu’s coalition, could use the legislation as a way to extract some of Deri’s political capital, say, doing away with the silly idea of rotating the Finance portfolio between them, leaving it in Smotrich’s control for the remainder of this government’s life.

I’m just saying.


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