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Israel’s Judicial Standoff Deepens as Netanyahu Delays Firing Minister


Israel’s new right-wing government and the country’s judiciary remained deadlocked on Thursday, after Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu delayed maintaining a judgment of the Supreme Court that calls for firing a key government minister.

Mr. Netanyahu took no action in dismissing his interior minister, Aryeh Deri, in the early afternoon, a day after the country’s highest court ruled that the minister should be fired, mainly because he was recently fired. Convicted of tax fraud and received a suspended sentence.

If Mr. Deri does not resign in the coming days or Mr. Netanyahu does not fire him, the legal dispute will be more complicated a larger clash between the government and the judiciary what analysts consider to be one of the most profound in Israel’s history.

Mr. Netanyahu faces an almost existential dilemma: Legal experts say there is no direct precedent for an Israeli leader to disobey a Supreme Court ruling and would form an anti-rule faction, but removing a top official from his coalition could bring down the government.

Coalition leaders have been locked in intense private discussions about how to respond, amid speculation in the Israeli media that Mr Netanyahu will eventually accept the court’s decision to avoid doing so. exacerbated the already heated mood in the country. The attorney general, Gali Baharav-Miara, advised Mr. Netanyahu that he had no other legal options, according to a letter published by Kan, Israel’s national broadcaster.

The standoff with the judiciary comes just days after Mr. Netanyahu’s government laid out a plan to significantly reduce the Supreme Court’s power over politicians and increase political influence over the choice. the judges of the court.

The proposed overhaul has spurred big rally across Israel in recent days, amid intense disagreement in Israeli society over whether politicians or the judiciary should retain supremacy in a liberal democracy.

Opposition leaders and some former prime ministers have warned that the judicial overhaul will damage the democratic process, while the government and supporters argue it will strengthen it – by give greater power to the parties representing the majority of the electorate.

These tensions are placed in the context of Netanyahu’s own corruption trialwhat his allies describe as an unelected judicial case against an elected political leader, but his critics see it as an example of the need for independence. strong establishment of the judiciary with the political executive.

Mr. Deri’s predicament also risks stoking longstanding grievances from Middle Eastern and North African Jewish Israelis, or Mizrahim, who Deri .’s political establishment. Following the establishment of Israel, Mizrahi Israelis suffered discrimination from European Israelis, or Ashkenazim, a group that dominated Israeli society for decades and still holds a majority on the Supreme Court.

As of Thursday afternoon, it remained unclear whether Mr. Netanyahu would ignore the court’s decision, trigger a constitutional crisis, or seek to perpetuate it without toppling his government.

Following Thursday’s court announcement, leaders in Mr Netanyahu’s coalition issued a vague statement, promising to “correct the injustice” of the ruling but leaving open the possibility Mr. may resign.

The disagreement stems from Mr. Deri’s decision to rejoin front-line politics during the general election last November. Mr. Deri is a political veteran. tax.

In the election, Mr. Deri’s party, Shas, a group popular among working-class ultra-Orthodox Mizrahi Jews, won 11 seats. Shas became the second-largest party in Mr. Netanyahu’s winning right-wing coalition, helping it achieve a balance of power in Parliament.

To secure Mr. Deri’s support, Mr. Netanyahu appointed him to lead two powerful ministries – health and interior. In doing so, he caused conflict with the Supreme Court, which was forced to rule on Mr. Deri’s suitability for office.

Although members of Shas threatened earlier this week to break up the union if Mr. Deri was forced out of office, they downplayed that rhetoric following the court’s announcement.

Asked to comment on the party’s intentions, a Shas spokesperson sent out a statement emphasizing their support for Mr Deri and his continued leadership, but avoiding mentioning a future minister. your.

Analysts speculate that he may step down in favor of allies in Shas. Some have also suggested that the government’s lawmakers could vote to dissolve the government, then immediately form a new administration, in which Mr Deri would be appointed as “alternative” prime minister. — an appointment that experts say judges will be harder to prevent.

The lack of clarity reflects how the new government has struggled to end the political stability that has roiled Israel over the past four years, leading to five elections since 2019.

The storm began when Mr. Netanyahu refused to leave office despite being investigated and then tried for corruption. His decision has divided the Israeli public almost evenly, between supporters who say he is the victim of a judicial scheme and critics who say he should leave office until at least the trial is over.

That split has resulted in four inconclusive elections between 2019 and 2021, in which neither Mr Netanyahu nor his opponents have been able to secure a large enough majority to stay in power for long.

Netanyahu’s opponents briefly seized power in 2021, but were defeated in November when Netanyahu returned to office under the leadership of the most right-wing coalition in Israeli history.

Despite the government’s ideological cohesion, its first weeks in power were difficult, amid anger from the opposition over plans to change the judiciary, tensions over Mr. Deri, and concerns in security services Netanyahu’s decision to give the key security role to far-right politicians.

Myra Noveck contribution report.

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