Israeli PM dismisses key minister, ally after court order

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is seen during an official inauguration ceremony at the Israeli parliament in Jerusalem, on Dec. 29, 2022. Benjamin Netanyahu, the longest-serving Israeli leader, returned to power on Thursday as the country's prime minister at the helm of an extreme-right coalition. (JINI via Xinhua)

Israel’s Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Sunday dismissed a senior cabinet ally to comply with a Supreme Court ruling that disqualified the minister from serving.

Netanyahu announced he was firing Aryeh Deri, the minister of health and minister of interior affairs, during his weekly cabinet meeting, the PM’s office said in a statement.

The move follows a Supreme Court ruling on Wednesday that Deri, an influential and veteran leader of the ultra-Orthodox party Shas, cannot serve as a minister due to a conviction in Feb. 2022 over tax fraud.

“I am forced, with a heavy heart, great sorrow and a very difficult feeling, to remove you from your position as a minister in the government,” Netanyahu wrote in a dismissal letter to Deri.

The Supreme Court’s decision “ignores the people’s will,” Netanyahu told Deri. “I intend to find any legal way for you to continue to contribute to the state of Israel,” Netanyahu said.

Deri said in a statement after the meeting that he would continue to serve as the leader of the Shas party and help the government to advance its agenda, including a controversial judiciary reform to weaken the Supreme Court.

Deri’s Shas became the third-largest party in the parliament after winning 11 seats in parliamentary elections in November. If Netanyahu loses its support, he might lose his majority in the parliament as his far-right coalition only has 64 seats in the 120-seat parliament.

The legal decision deepens an already unprecedented rift between the new hard-right government and the judiciary over the government’s reform plan to weaken the Supreme Court.

On Saturday, at least 120,000 Israelis, as estimated by police, protested in Tel Aviv and other cities against the legal overhaul which they claim will undermine the autonomy of the courts and threaten Israel’s democracy. ■

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