When Israel’s Supreme Court ruled that Aryeh Deri, head of the ultra-Orthodox Shas party, could not serve as a Cabinet minister in Benjamin Netanyahu’s government, it was more than just a swipe at the new regime and its planned judicial reforms. It set a precedent by which the judiciary now approves or nixes political appointments, a new means of “checking” the legislative and executive branches.
Previously, a politician’s suitability to run for Knesset or serve as a government minister was determined by the Central Elections Committee.
Deri, despite his many crimes, was not disqualified by the Central Elections Committee, and therefore was not seen as unsuitable to sit at the Cabinet table. If his crimes do indeed constitute moral turpitude, then the committee should have disqualified him from participating in the election in the first place. And perhaps it should have. But the question is whether or not the Supreme Court has the authority to step in and “correct” the situation.
Some argued that the court overstepped its bounds by assuming authority given to the Central Elections Committee.
The hundreds of thousands of Israelis, mostly ultra-Orthodox Jews of eastern (Mizrachi) descent, who voted for Shas don’t particularly care one way or another. The rabbis of the Council of Torah Sages (the religious body that oversees Shas) declared Deri innocent and suited to office, and thus he had God’s stamp of approval. And God trumps the Supreme Court.
“The time has come for war,” declared an editorial in the Shas newspaper HaDerech.
The Shas mouthpiece stressed that it was not instigating a fight, but rather responding. The first shots in what is increasingly seen as a civil war were fired by the Supreme Court, which HaDerech described as an “unrepresentative, racist and anarchist body.”
What’s worse, the court has become an idol for those secular Israelis who put democracy before religion, and the judges have responded to this adoration by making themselves “the sovereign, the ones who decide. They believe that they understand better than us citizens what is good for the nation,” in the words of HaDerech.
Like their pious biblical predecessors, the followers of Shas, and other Orthodox and religious Jews, see it as their divine duty to fight back against this “evil in the land,” as another op-ed published by HaDerech labeled the Supreme Court.
But this is politics, and it’s also the Middle East. Dramatic threats and accusations are made constantly, and rarely come to fruition. Remember when former US President Donald Trump decided to move his nation’s embassy to Jerusalem, recognizing Israel’s sovereignty over the entire city? There was no end to the Arab and Muslim threats to ignite the entire region in an unprecedented holy war. And then…nothing. They did nothing. And neither did Shas.
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