The High Court by a majority of 10 judges to 1 on Wednesday Jan. 18 struck down Aryeh Deri’s appointments as Interior and Health Minister by prime minister Binyamin Netanyahu, at the same time declaring war on his government’s judicial reform plan. Deri’s appointment was disqualified as “extremely unreasonable” in view of the Shas leader’s multiple criminal convictions and his conduct since he pledged to quit public life a year ago after a plea bargain under which his 12-month jail sentence for tax offenses was suspended for three years.
The judges had thus put the prime minister on notice to fire the minister, leaving no room for appeal. A face-saving solution is being sought to pacify the ultra-religious Shas party and save the government’s majority. Deri said in advance of the ruling that the decision on his fate is up to the prime minister. If he defied the High Court, Netanyahu would rev up the constitutional and political crisis already at fever pitch around the Justice Minister Yariv Levin’s judicial reform package.
Netanyahu may decide to wait until the package is forwarded through the Knesset, since one of the key reforms annuls “reasonableness” as grounds for the High Court to strike down Knesset legislation and government decisions. This would throw out the core of the court’s Deri ruling. The same overhaul of the judicial system would also allow High Court rulings to be overturned by a 61-Knesset majority. Levin’s reform bill is likely to undergo certain adjustments to expedite its enactment.
Clearly in fighting mood, the High Court’s judges declared in the text of its ruling on the Deri case that the prime minister has no legal right to immunity from “judicial criticism” for his decisions.
Netanyahu is perfectly aware that in their Deri case, the judges also had his own fate in mind in view of the trial still in progress on the criminal charges pending against him.