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A dispute between Netanyahu and the Supreme Court in Israel regarding the dismissal of an important minister

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Israel’s Supreme Court has ruled that a minister in Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s newly formed government cannot handle a recent tax evasion conviction.

The coalition government criticized Wednesday’s decision and vowed to press ahead with controversial measures that would weaken the country’s Supreme Court and its power to overturn the legislation.

Netanyahu returned to power as prime minister last month at the head of a coalition with far-right and ultra-Orthodox parties after Israeli elections on Nov. 1.

The appointment of Aryeh Deri as Minister of Health and Interior “could not continue” because it was “extremely unreasonable,” according to a summary of the court’s decision.

In a 10-1 decision, the justices said Netanyahu “must remove my shield from office.”

Deri, the head of the ultra-Orthodox Shas party, admitted last year to tax evasion, was fined 180,000 shekels ($50,000) and gave up his parliamentary seat.

The judges said Deri made it appear as if he intended to quit politics to get a lighter sentence. He ran for office again in the November elections.

They added that his ministerial appointment “seriously contradicts the basic principles of the rule of law.”

In Israel, which does not have a constitution, the Supreme Court currently has the power to strike down laws or government decisions it deems discriminatory or unreasonable.

Last month, lawmakers passed legislation allowing anyone convicted of crimes but not sentenced to prison to serve as minister.

‘silly’

Deri’s Shas party called the court’s decision “political”, “extremely unreasonable” and “unprecedented” but declined to announce any concrete measures.

It said the ruling “removed the votes and votes of 400,000 Shas supporters” and made the election “meaningless”.

Netanyahu, according to his spokesman, visited al-Dari at his home after the verdict, telling him, “When my brother is in distress, I come to him.”

Justice Minister Yariv Levin criticized the ruling, calling it “ridiculous”.

Levin, a member of Netanyahu’s right-wing Likud party, announced earlier this month a controversial plan to overhaul Israel’s legal system, including giving lawmakers more powers to appoint judges and override Supreme Court decisions.

“I will do whatever is necessary to redress the entire injustice done to Badri, Shas, and Israeli democracy,” Levin said on Wednesday.

“breaking the law”

Opposition leader Yair Lapid warned that “the Israeli government will break the law” if Netanyahu does not remove my shield.

“A government that does not abide by the law is an illegitimate government and cannot expect citizens to obey the law,” former Prime Minister Lapid said in a statement.

A joint statement by the leaders of the coalition parties indicated that they do not intend to oppose the ruling, which does not prevent Al-Dari’s party from remaining in the government.

“We will act in any legal way at our disposal and without delay to remedy the injustice,” the statement said, and denounced “a severe blow to the democratic decision…of the people.”

Born in Morocco, Deri is a veteran politician and has held a seat in the Knesset as well as several ministerial positions over the past decades.

In the middle of the current term, he was to become Minister of Finance, while remaining Deputy Prime Minister.

In 2000, he was sentenced to three years in prison for taking bribes, although his sentence was reduced by a third for good behaviour. He later returned to politics after a seven-year ban.

Netanyahu himself is currently on trial for bribery, fraud and breach of trust, charges he denies.

Claude Klein, professor emeritus of law at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, told AFP he did not expect the ruling to affect the coalition because Shas has an interest in keeping part of the coalition.

But he warned that this could “accelerate” the government’s desire to pass its judicial reforms.

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