A firestorm of protest has erupted in response to a Supreme Court ruling on Wednesday prohibiting Interior and Health Minister Aryeh Deri from serving in those posts.
Deri also serves as Vice Prime Minister and is a member of Israel’s high-ranking Security Cabinet – two more positions he is slated to lose due to the court’s ruling.
Court Says ‘Unreasonable’ for Deri to Remain in Cabinet
In handing down its ruling, the court cited its “reasonability test” as its justification for ignoring a law passed in December that enabled Deri to serve following a conviction last year on tax offenses.
The Knesset passed an amendment in December 2022 that eliminated a clause in Basic Law: The Government which disqualified any lawmaker with a suspended sentence from serving as a cabinet minister.
The amendment enabled Deri to serve in ministerial posts despite last year’s conviction – but the court ruled the move did not meet its “reasonability test.”
Shas Warns Ruling Means ‘Elections are Meaningless’
The court’s ruling could endanger the continuation of the government.
Deri’s Shas party warned prior to the decision that a prohibition on Deri would prompt the party to withdraw from the coalition, thus eliminating the Knesset majority led by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s Likud party.
“The court effectively ruled that elections are meaningless,” the Shas part wrote in a statement issued moments after the ruling was handed down. “The court’s decision is political and tainted with extreme unreasonability,” the statement continued, with a reference to the court ruling, which cited the “reasonability test” as a reason for its decision.
“The entire Shas movement is appalled by the arbitrary and unprecedented decision of the High Court of Justice, in contravention of law and justice, and sees it as a serious violation of the right to vote and to be elected, which is the lifeblood of democracy,” the Shas statement continued.
The party vowed to consult with its guiding rabbis as to how to form a response to the court decision. “Broad sections of Israeli society today feel excluded by the court,” the statement said.
UTJ, Degel HaTorah Pledge Support for Deri
United Torah Judaism party leader and Housing Minister Yitzhak Goldknopf, a member of the coalition, said the court’s ruling was “another tangible example of that which has created the crisis between Israeli citizens and the judicial system.” He added that UTJ will “support all legislative procedures required” to return Deri to his ministerial posts, noting that “hundreds of thousands of Israeli citizens clearly expressed their trust in Rabbi Deri . . . and their desire to see him serve as a minister in the government.”
The Degal HaTorah party, which participates in the UTJ faction, likewise slammed the decision. “Once again, the court intervenes in matters in which it has no authority after the Knesset enacted a Basic Law,” the party wrote in a statement.
“The High Court drills down on again and again and meddles in things that are not theirs. We will support all the legislative procedures required for Rabbi Aryeh Deri to serve in the government,” Degel HaTorah wrote.
Likud Slams Ruling, Vows Legislative Branch Will ‘Have Its Say’
In response to the court’s decision, the Likud issued a statement saying the party views Deri as a “central and significant” member of the government and pledged to ensure his return.
“Deri’s extraordinary abilities and vast experience are needed by the State of Israel in these complex days more than ever,” the statement said.
Likud Foreign Minister Eli Cohen said in a statement that the court “in a separate step makes a decision that will further damage public trust in the judicial system. Minister Deri was wronged, and this comes after years of legal torture.”
Likud Justice Minister Yariv Levin called the ruling “absurd” and said it “tramples not only on the votes of nearly 400,000 Shas voters, but also on the votes of the majority of Israeli citizens who knew all the relevant facts and voted for a government headed by Netanyahu in which Aryeh Deri is a senior member.”
Levin said the court “failed to respect the decision of the people, the judgment of the prime minister, and the decision of the Knesset that expressed confidence in the current government.”
He vowed to do “everything necessary so that this injustice that screams to the heaven against Rabbi Aryeh Deri, the Shas party and Israeli democracy is fully corrected.”
Fellow Likud member and Knesset Speaker Amir Ohana, a former minister of public security, said the court should not have intervened on an issue he maintained was the purview of the Knesset.
“Now the legislative branch will have its say,” Ohana said.
Ben Gvir: Court Ruling was ‘Legal Coup’
Otzma Yehudit party chair and National Security Minister Itamar Ben Gvir said in his own statement that the court, “which is not elected, is not interested in compromises and desired a government without straits over elected officials.”
Ben Gvir added that the court carried out a “legal coup without consent and negotiations” and did not accept that Israelis “had their say in the last election, decisively. Reform now!”
Supporters Gather Outside Deri’s Home
Several hundred demonstrators gathered Wednesday evening to protest the ruling in front of Deri’s home in Jerusalem’s Har Nof neighborhood.
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and several coalition members visited Deri’s home earlier in the evening for a meeting that lasted approximately an hour.
Religious Zionism party chair and Finance Minister Bezalel Smotrich visited Deri’s home as well.
Petitioner, Opposition Call for Deri’s Ouster
Members of the leftist parties who comprise the Knesset opposition factions, however, called on Netanyahu to comply with the ruling and fire Deri.
Labor party chair Merav Michaeli acknowledged that the court’s decision was “difficult for many citizens” but maintained that Netanyahu and Deri must “show responsibility and respect the ruling.”
Yesh Atid party chair and opposition leader Yair Lapid was among the most vociferous, warning that if Deri isn’t fired, “the government will be breaking the law.” He added that Israel “will be thrust into an unprecedented constitutional crisis and will no longer be a democracy.”
The petitioner in the case, Movement for Quality Government, also called on Netanyahu to “respect the ruling and dismiss Deri,” adding in its statement that the government “is not a rehabilitation facility for criminals.” The NGO called the decision an important step toward maintaining the rule of law and a “victory for the entire Israeli public.”