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Netanyahu removes senior Israeli minister Deri after Supreme Court ruling

Aryeh Deri dismissed as health and interior minister after judgement disqualified him from holding office
Israel's Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu sits next to Interior and Health Minister Aryeh Deri during a weekly cabinet meeting in Jerusalem on 8 January 2023 (AFP)
Israel's Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu sits next to Interior and Health Minister Aryeh Deri during a weekly cabinet meeting in Jerusalem on 8 January 2023 (AFP)

Aryeh Deri, a senior Israeli minister, has been removed from office by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu after a bombshell Supreme Court judgement earlier this week ordered his disqualification from government. 

"It is with a heavy heart, with great sorrow and with an extremely difficult feeling that I am forced to transfer you from your position as a minister in the government," Netanyahu told Deri during a cabinet meeting, according to a statement on Sunday from the prime minister's office.

Deri is one of Netanyahu's most experienced allies and head of the ultra-Orthodox Shas party. 

He was appointed interior and health minister last month as part of the most right-wing government in Israel's history, following elections on 1 November. 

The 63-year-old was convicted of tax crimes in 2022 and submitted his resignation from the Israeli parliament at the time.

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He struck a plea bargain with the courts, in which he said he would quit parliament and political life, only to return to it nine months later and take a ministerial position. 

The Supreme Court ruled on Wednesday that the prime minister "must remove Deri from his position" over last year's tax evasion conviction.

Netanyahu said in a statement on Sunday that the ruling was "regrettable" and "ignores the will of the people". 

Deri has a controversial legal history. In 2000, he was sentenced to three years in prison for taking $155,000 in bribes while serving as interior minister.

He served 22 months in prison, and though remaining an influential figure didn't rejoin public life until 2011. He was re-elected to parliament in 2013.

Controversial judicial reforms

Shas won 11 of the Israeli parliament's 120 seats in November's elections, making it the fifth-largest party. With the Netanyahu-led coalition governing with a majority of three seats, the withdrawal of Shas would collapse his new government.

The ruling comes amid unprecedented pressure on the Israeli justice system. 

Last week, almost all the prosecutors and state attorneys that have served in Israel in the past half century jointly warned that planned reforms to the country's justice system would "destroy" judicial independence.

The proposals include a clause allowing parliament to reenact laws disqualified by the Supreme Court with a simple majority of 61 MPs (out of 120). 

According to the annual Israel Democracy Institute survey which was published last week, a majority of citizens believe that the Supreme Court should have the power to overturn laws passed in parliament if they contradict democratic principles.

On Saturday, tens of thousands of Israelis joined protests in Tel Aviv against the judicial reforms. Former prime minister Yair Lapid was among those demonstrating.

"What you see here today is a demonstration in favour of the state. People who love the country came to defend its democracy, its courts, the idea of a common life and a common good," he tweeted

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