Netanyahu Fires Interior Minister, Opposition Slams Government ‘Circus’

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Minister of Health, Aryeh Deri, during a press conference at Sheba medical center, in which the recommendations for the 2023 health services basket were presented to him. Ramat Gan, Jan 18, 2023. Photo by Gideon Markowicz/TPS
By Pesach Benson • 22 January, 2023

Jerusalem, 22 January, 2023 (TPS) — Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu fired embattled government minister Aryeh Deri at the end of Sunday’s Cabinet meeting.

“As is known, I decided to appoint you as Deputy Prime Minister and Interior and Health Minister with the approval of the majority of Knesset members due to the fact that I see you as an anchor of experience, intelligence and responsibility that are important to the State of Israel at all times, and especially at this time,” Netanyahu read from a letter he wrote to Deri.

The Supreme Court’s ruling, Netanyahu said, “Ignores the will of the people, as reflected in the great trust that the public gave to the people’s representatives and their elected officials in my government when it was clear to everyone that he would serve in the government as a senior minister. I intend to look for any legal way in which you can continue to contribute to the State of Israel from your vast experiences and skills, in accordance with the will of the people.”

Following the dismissal, Deri told Netanyahu he would continue to be active in politics. “I intend to continue with all my strength to contribute to the public and to the coalition, and I intend to continue leading the Shas movement, continue attending meetings of the heads of the coalition parties and assist in advancing the important legal steps that this government was chosen for,” he said.

The Supreme Court ruled 10-1 on Wednesday that Deri, leader of the religious Shas party, misled a lower court into believing he would retire from politics as part of a plea agreement.

The 63-year-old Deri held the dual roles of Minister of Interior and Health. He was also Vice Prime Minister and sat on the influential Security Cabinet.

It wasn’t immediately clear who will take over the Health and Interior portfolios. When a government minister resigns or is fired, the portfolios normally revert to the Prime Minister. However, Netanyahu is legally prohibited holding any cabinet portfolios because he is in the middle of a corruption trial. Netanyahu was indicted on charges of bribery, fraud and breach of trust from three separate investigations. The Prime Minister maintains his innocence.

A spokesman for Deri said he would continue to serve as Vice Premier, but whether he can attend weekly Cabinet meetings as observer isn’t clear.

Deri participated in the Cabinet meeting in order to give an update on National Health Basket services. Notably, he was not in the room at the beginning of the meeting, when the Prime Minister was filmed making his opening remarks. Deri entered the room after photographers left.

The weekly Cabinet meeting was boycotted by ministers from the Religious Zionist Party in protest against the Defense Ministry’s evacuation of Or Haim, an illegally built settlement outpost in northern Samaria.

Opposition leader Yair Lapid called the Cabinet meeting “a circus.”

Deri’s legal issues stem from a January 2022 plea agreement in which he admitted to underreporting the value of property sold to his brother to avoid paying a land tax. He also admitted failing to report income from the sales and evading a tax on 534,000 shekels ($150,770) of income by funneling payments from an investment fund to his brother.

As part of the plea agreement, Deri was given a suspended prison sentence and paid a fine of 180,000 shekels ($50,800).

Deri was previously convicted in 2000 of accepting bribes while serving as Interior Minister. Due to good behavior, he served 22 months of a three-year sentence, leaving prison in 2002. Deri returned to the Knesset in 2013.

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