JERUSALEM (Aug. 22)
In a move that appears to put off a potential crisis in Israel’s governing coalition, the country’s Supreme Court has postponed until Aug. 30 its hearing of a petition calling for the removal from office of Interior Minister Aryeh Deri.
Deri, who heads the fervently Orthodox Shas party, a junior partner in the Labor-led coalition, faces charges of bribery and misappropriation in connection with his personal financial affairs.
The spiritual leader of Shas, former Sephardic Chief Rabbi Ovadia Yosef, has warned that the party will quit the governing coalition if Deri is dismissed.
While a Shas defection would not automatically bring down the government, it would severely limit Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin’s ability to govern, since he would then have a Knesset plurality, rather than an absolute majority.
In announcing the postponement, Supreme Court President Meir Shamgar said the rescheduled hearing would be held before an expanded judicial panel of five judges.
He cited the gravity and complexity of the legal concerns presented in the petition brought by the Movement for Quality Government in Israel, a public advocacy group calling for Deri’s ouster.
The petition seeks to establish norms of public behavior for Cabinet ministers and deputy ministers, and questions whether officials should be permitted to remain in office while facing serious criminal charges.
The court’s ruling in the Deri case could well serve as a precedent for a similar case currently pending against another Shas politician, Deputy Religious Affairs Minister Raphael Pinhasi.
Pinhasi has been under investigation on fraud charges — including alleged campaignfinance offenses — in connection with his position as party treasurer.
A five-judge bench is scheduled to hold a final hearing Sept. 2 on petitions calling for Pinhasi’s dismissal.
Attorney General Yosef Harish has characterized the charges against Deri as extremely serious and has said it violates principles of good government for someone suspected of such crimes to serve as a minister.
Harish has also asked the Supreme Court to honor the petitions calling for Pinhasi dismissal, citing the gravity of the charges against him.
Both Deri and Pinhasi are currently protected by parliamentary immunity, which prevents their cases from being tried in the courts.