This article was updated at 4:12 pm Israel time.
The Israeli High Court of Justice ruled against the leader of the ultra-Orthodox Shas party, barring him from serving as a minister in the current government because of two prior convictions, including one last year on tax evasion.
And his party members aren't expected to take Aryeh Deri's disqualification lightly.
Israel’s new Welfare Minister Yaakov Margi said on Wednesday that if the court rules against Deri, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu “knows there will be no government,” in an apparent threat that Shas would pull its 11 members out of the coalition which has a majority with 64 seats at the moment.
“If the court disqualifies him, the prime minister will have to decide what to do,” Margi explained in an interview with Kan Radio. “We have said all along that there is no reason for Aryeh Deri not to serve as a senior minister in Israel.”
On Tuesday, during an interview with the Knesset TV channel, Knesset Member Avraham Bezalel, also of Shas, said that the court’s justices would be shooting themselves “in the head” if they dared to rule against him.
“I think that in the end, if [the judges] rule to disqualify him, they are shooting themselves, even in the head I’d say,” Bezalel stated. “They are aware of the current sensitivity, they understand what the public thinks. We’re aware of the protests and see what’s happening in the streets over the past few weeks in light of the whole situation.”
His comments come amid a heated public debate over proposed reforms that would alter the judicial system and judge-selection process.
However, Bezalel said later he was misunderstood.
“As someone to whom public trust in the justice system is important, I meant to say that if the High Court decision nullifies the choice of more than 400,000 citizens [who voted for Shas], it would significantly harm public trust in the court,” he said in a statement.
The proposed judicial reforms were announced by Justice Minister Yariv Levin the day prior to Deri’s hearing before the Supreme Court, a move which former High Court President Aharon Barak likened to “putting a loaded gun on the table” – a threat to the court that its power will be stripped if it ruled against Deri.
Due to his previous convictions, Deri’s appointment is being contested as “unreasonable.” According to reports, the court is expected to rule that the appointment of Deri as interior and health minister is “extremely unreasonable.”
Deri has been defiant, however. According to Channel 13, he told his fellow party members he would refuse to resign.
“The public elected me, not the Supreme Court justices,” he reportedly said.
If the justices rule against Deri’s candidacy, the decision of whether to fire Deri or defy the court would be left to Netanyahu, who is on trial for three separate indictments. However, Deri is a senior partner in the coalition and Shas has the power to break up the government should Deri be cast aside.
In any case, the coalition still hopes to pass a law which would allow Deri to return as minister. This is separate from the “Deri Law” passed last month which changed the standards for serving as a minister.
Now, a label of “moral turpitude” will only be required for lawmakers who have served custodial prison sentences – only they will need approval from the Central Elections Committee to become a minister. This allowed Deri to avoid going before the committee, but his appointment was contested in a separate petition before the Supreme Court.
Nicole Jansezian is the news editor for both ALL ISRAEL NEWS and ALL ARAB NEWS and senior correspondent for ALL ISRAEL NEWS