Tachles: A modern Hebrew word of Yiddish origin that means “to the point.”
What happened yesterday in Jerusalem was to be expected. Two powers collided. The humanist legal system and those who supposedly champion biblical ideals. King Jehoshaphat commanded his judges to “act in the fear of God, in truth, and with a clear conscience. Be careful, for with God there is no injustice, no honor, no bribery.” A clear biblical warning to the judges of Israel, both past and present. A large portion of the Israeli population through the religious media is now accusing the judges of ignoring the God of Israel and instead ruling based on their own political biases.
At issue is the Supreme Court’s decision to nullify the appointment of the Shas party leader Aryeh Deri to the posts of Minister of Health and Minister of the Interior in the new government. Eleven justices, led by Supreme Court President Esther Hayut, made the decision with just one dissenting vote. Most judges on the panel felt that Deri’s appointment was “extremely inappropriate and Deri should therefore be removed from office.” This is due, among other things, to Aryeh Deri’s numerous criminal convictions on charges of corruption and tax fraud, some of which have landed him in jail. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu visited Deri at his Jerusalem home an hour after the court ruling. “If my brother is in need, I stand by him,” Netanyahu said.
The day before yesterday, Deri stressed that he would not resign if the Supreme Court ruled against his appointment. But now the decision is in Netanyahu’s hands. Although the coalition expected such a ruling, the court’s decision was nevertheless like a “big bang” and final confirmation that the Supreme Court must be neutralized. Abroad, one has to understand that Orthodox and secular Jews view Israel’s democracy differently. Religious Jews insist on biblical ideals first, while secular Jews want the nation to be guided by humanist values. And that’s why what happened yesterday in Jerusalem was so serious. Two worldviews that cannot be bridged in the current situation collided like never before.
The Shas party is threatening to topple the governing coalition if Deri is forced out of the Cabinet. “Today the court effectively ruled that the elections are meaningless. The court’s decision is political, tainted and extremely unreasonable,” read the Shas party’s reaction to the verdict.
The Council of Torah Sages, the religious body that guides Shas, gathered in Jerusalem to encourage Aryeh Deri. “Regardless of what the Supreme Court in Jerusalem decides, you will remain in office. You will lead our community forever and ever,” said the rabbis.
The senior Torah sage, Rabbi Moshe Maya, compared the Supreme Court to Stalin and biblical idolaters. “The judges in Jerusalem are like Stalin, whoever didn’t like him and didn’t follow his path was exiled to Siberia. That’s persecution, and that’s what the court is doing to us. These judges are stupid,” said the wise rabbi. “It is written in the Bible that the Saint will smite the Egyptians and their idols. Today the Supreme Court is the idol, they are beaten and they are shamed. The judges will be humiliated, and meanwhile the power of the Torah will increase.”
“If Aryeh Deri is not sacked, the Israeli government will be breaking the law,” insisted opposition leader Yair Lapid. “A government that doesn’t obey the law is an illegal government. It can no longer demand that citizens obey the law while the government itself does not. Unless Deri is fired, Israel will plunge into an unprecedented constitutional crisis. Israel will no longer be a democracy and the rule of law will come to an end.”
Israel’s new Minister of Justice, Yariv Levin, sees things differently. “This is an absurdity, the Supreme Court repeatedly annulled the election result two months ago,” said Levin, who promotes judicial reforms in the country. “Again, Israel’s judicial system has failed to respect the people’s decision and the Knesset’s decision to place its trust in the new government. We urgently need to change that.”
I know from a number of colleagues and friends who are right-wing Likud voters that they have a problem with the Orthodox Jew Aryeh Deri. For many, he is a crook who really has no right to be a minister. “How can you expect a cat not to touch the cream?” I’ve heard from many in reference to Deri. For the judges, this is inappropriate. How can anyone be Minister of Finance (a post Deri previously held) and a role model after being imprisoned for corruption?
But those arguments don’t move the rabbis. The people voted for Aryeh Deri, and therefore he has the right to serve as a minister. From their point of view, the people decide, not the judges in Jerusalem. And this is precisely what’s dividing Israeli society at the moment.. Who rules the country, the people’s majority or the court? The ruling coalition insists that the people elected the new government, and that even if he is corrupt, two million Israelis want Aryeh Deri in the Cabinet. The Supreme Court sees it differently and says no. That will not do.
In the eyes of the judges their brother in the government is corrupt, and for the politician his judicial brothers are idolaters. Israel is falling into the same trap as in biblical times, and that’s not only our opinion. The entire nation and the media are fully aware of this danger modern Israel faces when brothers turn against each other.
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