Israel: a key minister dismissed under the pressure of justice

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu was forced, under pressure from justice, to dismiss government number two Arie Dery on Sunday, convicted of tax evasion.

Leader of the ultra-Orthodox Shass party, the second formation of Mr. Netanyahu’s coalition, Arié Dery was appointed Minister of Health and the Interior in the government formed at the end of December in the wake of the legislative elections on November 1.

But on Wednesday, the Supreme Court of Israel invalidated his appointment and recalled that Mr. Dery had announced in early 2022 his withdrawal from political life to avoid prison after his conviction for tax evasion.

“It is with a heavy heart and a lot of pain … that we are forced to remove you from your position in government,” Netanyahu said at the weekly cabinet meeting in Jerusalem attended by Mr. Dery.

He added that the judgment “ignored the will of the people” and that he would work to find a legal way for Mr. Dery to “contribute to the service of the State of Israel”.

– “A circus” –

His removal from the government follows Wednesday’s decision by the Supreme Court, the country’s highest court.

In a press release, she announced that she had decided by a majority of ten judges out of eleven that the appointment as minister of Mr. Dery, “cannot be validated”. “The Prime Minister must sack him.”

Despite the announcement of his withdrawal from political life, Mr. Dery was elected deputy in the November legislative elections and then appointed to the government.

In a first reaction, the former Prime Minister and leader of the opposition, Yaïr Lapid, described the government as a “circus” on Twitter.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu (C) chairs the weekly cabinet meeting in Jerusalem on January 22, 2023 (POOL/AFP – Maya Alleruzzo)

“Netanyahu is weak, but he must appoint a full-time health minister and interior minister today,” he said. “The citizens of Israel should not pay the price for this government’s corruption and disorder.”

Mr. Lapid joined a demonstration in Tel Aviv on Saturday which gathered some 100,000 Israelis according to media estimates, to proclaim their rejection of the policy of the Netanyahu government, which they claim to fear is an anti-democratic drift.

It is the largest demonstration since Benjamin Netanyahu returned to the helm of the government in December combining right-wing, far-right and ultra-Orthodox Jewish parties, the most right-wing in Israel’s history.

– “Serious contradiction” –

Mr. Netanyahu himself is on trial for corruption in several cases and his trial is ongoing.

In Israel, the Prime Minister does not have any judicial immunity but does not have to resign or step down during his trial.

At the end of December, the deputies voted a text, baptized “Dery law” by the press, authorizing a person convicted of a crime, but not sentenced to prison, to sit in government.

The Supreme Court criticized this law and considered that the appointment of Mr. Dery was “in serious contradiction with the fundamental principles of the rule of law”.

Tutelary figure of Shass, a party accustomed to making and breaking coalitions since the 1980s, Mr. Dery has been a minister in many governments.

In 1993, the Supreme Court had already demanded that he be removed from his post as Minister of the Interior, after being indicted for corruption. In 2000, he was sentenced to three years in prison and released after serving two-thirds of his sentence.

In Israel, where the Basic Laws serve as the Constitution, the judiciary is the only one able to control the government.

At the beginning of January, Justice Minister Yariv Levin nevertheless announced a controversial program of reforms to the judiciary including the introduction of an “escape clause” allowing parliament to overrule a decision of the Supreme Court by a simple majority.

This reform, which must be submitted to Parliament on an unspecified date, aims to increase the power of elected officials over that of magistrates and, according to its detractors, jeopardizes the democratic character of the State of Israel.

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