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New government set to swear in on Thursday after passage of two controversial laws

Named for Knesset members, the laws allow a MK with a criminal conviction to serve as a minister in some cases and creates a new minister position for another MK

MK Ofir Katz leads a special committee in the Knesset, Dec. 25, 2022. (Photo: Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

The Israeli parliament voted early Tuesday morning to make changes to the nation’s Basic Law in order to allow two key party leaders to serve as ministers in the upcoming government – one despite having been convicted of tax fraud.

The new legislation – named after the Knesset members for whom the laws were drafted – paves the way for Benjamin Netanyahu to swear in his new coalition on Thursday and become prime minister.

THE DERI LAW

The “Deri Law” will enable Aryeh Deri, the head of the ultra-Orthodox Shas party, to be appointed as a minister despite a conviction earlier this year on tax offenses.

Knowing that a label of “moral turpitude” could bar him from politics for seven years, Deri resigned from the Knesset in January before the court slapped him with that distinction. (Moral turpitude is defined as a legal concept that refers to any conduct that is believed to be contrary to the community standards of honesty, justice, or good moral values.)

With this new law, the standards for serving as a minister have changed. Now, a determination of moral turpitude will be required exclusively for custodial prison sentences and only those cases will have to go before the Central Elections Committee for approval to become a minister. Deri will not have to.

THE SMOTRICH LAW

Then there is the “Smotrich Law,” named for Bezalel Smotrich, who heads the Religious Zionism party. With this law, Smotrich will now serve as a minister within the Defense Ministry.

This new position will put Smotrich under the Defense minister but will give him control over civil issues in the West Bank, including Coordinator of Government Activities in the Territories and the Civil Administration (COGAT). A proponent of the settlements and annexation, Smotrich will be responsible for the 450,000 Israelis and 300,000 Palestinians living in Judea and Samaria.

One law remains in order to solidify the coalition: “The Ben Gvir law.” This law expands the power and changes the title of public security minister to national security minister. The law will make the Israel Police subordinate to the government and give the minister the ability to set policy and decide on investigations.

THE OPPOSITION RESPONDS

The laws were passed together with a 63-55 majority despite vigorous arguments and a filibuster by the opposition.

Justice Minister Gideon Sa’ar said the Deri Law essentially makes the Knesset “lower the bar regarding membership in the government.”

“The law is a bad law, a bad law that was extorted from the prime minister and damages the value of purity of public service, for personal reasons,” Sa’ar said.

Defense Minister Benny Gantz expressed concern that creating this new position for Smotrich amounts to a “dismantling of the chain of command” that will “harm the functioning of our security system.”

He said Netanyahu previously assured the Israel Defense Forces chief of staff that this would not go forward without getting professional opinions on the subject.

“It’s a shame that we are not paying attention to this. It’s even more of a shame that we will pay this price,” he said.

The outgoing IDF Chief of Staff Aviv Kochavi himself expressed concerns to Netanyahu over these changes to military authority.

“During the conversation, it was agreed upon that decisions that are tied to the IDF will be made only after the IDF presents the consequences and significance of such decisions,” a military spokesperson said.

Nicole Jansezian is the news editor for both ALL ISRAEL NEWS and ALL ARAB NEWS and senior correspondent for ALL ISRAEL NEWS

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