Judge Says Shas Official Unfit for Office, but Ruling Postponed

In a case that has implications for the stability of the Labor government, Israel’s chief justice said this week that he does not believe Deputy Religious Affairs Minister Raphael Pinhasi is fit to remain in office.

But the High Court of Justice, which heard petitions Thursday calling for Pinhasi’s ouster, postponed its final ruling in the matter until a later date.

Pinhasi, a member of the fervently Orthodox Shas party, is accused of alleged financial misconduct in his capacity as party treasurer. But charges against him cannot be presented in court until the Knesset lifts his parliamentary immunity, a move it so far has refused to do.

In stating his belief that Pinhasi should step down from office now, Chief Justice Meir Shamgar said, “We wish to live in a society with values we can accept.”

“In the case of Deputy Minister Pinhasi, we are in a trap,” Shamgar told Israel Radio, referring to the Knesset’s refusal to lift his parliamentary immunity.

“If the situation continues, the public will draw the conclusion that this is an acceptable norm. It is not,” Shamgar said.

If the court orders Pinhasi to step down, the government fears Shas will leave the governing coalition. That would weaken the government considerably and could, in turn, affect the course of the peace process.

The coalition’s stability has also been threatened by the possible resignation of another Shas official, Interior Minister Aryeh Deri, who likewise faces charges of financial misconduct.

At least three of the court’s five justices have made clear they think Pinhasi should resign.

Even though the law does not require it, they said they believe public morality demands it.

Attorney General Yosef Harish has argued that the gravity of the charges against Pinhasi make his removal imperative.

Pinhasi’s attorney has argued that a court order for his client’s removal from office would violate the will of the Knesset and undermine its immunity provisions.

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