The new right-wing Israeli government and the country’s judiciary were in a stalemate on Thursday after Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu delayed upholding a Supreme Court ruling calling for the dismissal of a key government minister.
Netanyahu took no clear action on Thursday regarding the dismissal of Interior Minister Arieh Deli. A day after the country’s Supreme Court ruled that the interior minister should be sacked, Mr. Netanyahu said largely because he was recently convicted of tax evasion and given a suspended prison sentence.
Unless Mr. Deli resigns in the coming days or Mr. Netanyahu fires him, the legal battle will exacerbate wider clashes between the government and the judiciary. Analysts believe the clash is one of the most serious in Israeli history.
Netanyahu faces an almost existential dilemma. Legal experts say there is no direct precedent for an Israeli leader to turn a deaf ear to a Supreme Court ruling and would be an aide against the rule of law, but his coalition has said it would be a top official to dismantle the government.
As speculation rife in the Israeli news media that Netanyahu would eventually acquiesce to the court’s decision, refusing to exacerbate the already frenzied mood in the country, coalition leaders said on Thursday how spent a tense, closed-door discussion about how to respond to Prosecutor General Gary Baharaf-Miara advised Netanyahu that he had no other legal options, according to a letter published by Israeli state broadcaster Khan.
The standoff with the judiciary comes just days after Netanyahu’s government planned to sharply curtail the Supreme Court’s powers over politicians and increase political influence over the election of court judges.
The proposed overhaul sparked massive protests across Israel recently, amid bitter disagreements within Israeli society over whether politicians or the judiciary should have the upper hand in a liberal democracy.
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While some opposition leaders and former prime ministers have warned that judicial reforms would undermine the democratic process, the government and its supporters have argued against the democratic process by giving more power to parties representing the majority of voters. claims to strengthen the
These tensions are set against the backdrop of Netanyahu’s own corruption trial. Netanyahu’s allies have portrayed unelected judicial authorities as a case of overreach against elected political leaders, but his critics say strong judicial independence against Netanyahu is needed. as an example of what it is. political cadres.
Deli’s predicament also threatens to resurface long-standing grievances from the Mizrahim, or Jewish Israelis from the Middle East and North Africa who form his political base. After the founding of Israel, Mizrahi his Israelites discriminated against European Israelis, the Ashkenazim, a group that has dominated Israeli society for decades and still forms a majority in the Supreme Court. received.
On Thursday, it was not clear whether Netanyahu had ignored the court’s decision and caused a constitutional crisis, or had found a way to keep it going without collapsing the government.
Following the court’s announcement, Netanyahu’s coalition leaders released ambiguous statements, promising to “rectify the injustice” of the ruling, but leaving Deli still open to resigning.
The disagreement stems from Deli’s decision to return to frontline politics in last November’s general election. Deli is a veteran of politics, having first served in the Cabinet in the 1980s. But he had promised in court in 2021 to retire from politics in exchange for avoiding jail time on tax evasion charges.
In the election, Deli’s party Shas, popular with working-class ultra-Orthodox Mizrahi Jews, won 11 seats. Shas became his second-largest party in Netanyahu’s victorious right-wing coalition, resulting in a parliamentary balance of power.
To secure Dehri’s support, Netanyahu appointed him head of two powerful ministries: health and domestic affairs. In doing so, he set up a clash with the Supreme Court, which was forced to rule on Deli’s suitability for office.
Members of the Shas earlier this week threatened to dismantle the coalition if Deri was forced to resign, but have scaled back that rhetoric after the court’s announcement.
Asked to comment on the party’s intentions, a spokesman for Chass sent a statement emphasizing support for Deli and his continued leadership, but declined to comment on his minister’s future.
Analysts speculated that he may resign in favor of Shas’ allies. Others suggested that the government’s parliamentarians might vote in favor of dissolving themselves and soon form a new government with Deli as the “acting” prime minister.
The lack of clarity reflects how the new government has struggled to end the political instability that has roiled Israel over the past four years, leading to five elections since 2019. increase.
The turmoil began when Netanyahu refused to resign despite being investigated and later tried for corruption. His decision divided the Israeli public about evenly between supporters who felt he was a victim of judicial stitches and critics who felt he should step down at least until the trial was over. divided.
The split has resulted in four inconclusive elections between 2019 and 2021, with neither Mr. Netanyahu nor his opponents winning a sufficient majority to remain in power for the long term.
Netanyahu’s opponents briefly took power in 2021, but were defeated again in November as Netanyahu returned to office at the helm of the most right-wing coalition in Israel’s history.
Despite the government’s ideological cohesion, amid opposition outrage over plans for judicial reform, tensions over Deli, and concerns among security officials over Netanyahu’s decision to give a key security role to remote areas, His first few weeks in office were volatile. right politician.
Myra Novek contributed to the report.