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Netanyahu fires key coalition partner after Supreme Court disqualification


Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu reluctantly fired a key cabinet ally on Sunday, adhering to a Supreme Court ruling that the man was ineligible in part because of a “backlog of criminal convictions” against him.

The resignation is seen as a potential threat to the stability of Netanyahu’s government, as Aryeh Deri, the sacked health and interior minister, heads the ultra-Orthodox Shas party, part of Netanyahu’s far-right coalition. enabled a government. Deri was convicted of tax fraud last year. Although he claimed he was targeted because of his Moroccan heritage, he signed a plea deal and received a suspended sentence after vowing not to try to serve in government.

Netanyahu is expected to temporarily replace Deri with another member of Shas, to ensure the coalition holds up in the short term as members work to pass legislation to allow his return. Shas Welfare and Social Affairs Minister Yaakov Margi had previously threatened that “there will be no government” if Deri is impeached.

Netanyahu had appointed Deri as interior and health minister as part of a complex coalition deal reached in December. The deal allowed Netanyahu to regain his seat as prime minister and end a four-year electoral deadlock in exchange for giving unprecedented sweeping powers to far-right and ultra-religious allies.

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Netanyahu announced Deri’s removal at a weekly cabinet meeting, saying it was done with “heavy heart and great sadness”.

“This unfortunate decision ignores the will of the people,” Netanyahu told Deri. “I intend to find a legal way for you to continue to contribute to the State of Israel.”

Until Sunday’s announcement, it remained unclear whether Netanyahu would abide by the Supreme Court ruling, which had become a major test within Israel of how far the country’s embattled leader would go, at least in the short term, in his escalating constitutional showdown. .

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Netanyahu has pledged to rein in the scrutiny of lawmakers by the judiciary, seen as one of the country’s last democratic strongholds. The prime minister is caught up in his own corruption process that has dragged on for years and threatens his status as Israel’s longest-serving leader. Netanyahu has denied all allegations against him and claimed to be the victim of a witch hunt by the country’s courts and media.

The prime minister can still remain in office while indicted, but Netanyahu has asked lawmakers to grant him immunity and other restrictions on judicial checks of the government.

Deri responded to Netanyahu’s statement on Sunday, saying he had “an ironclad commitment to the 400,000 people who voted for me and Shas. No court decision will prevent me from serving and representing them.”

The prime minister’s polarizing legal agenda has deepened deep divisions over how Jewish Israelis see the country’s future. On Saturday, for the third week in a row, tens of thousands of Israelis protested against Netanyahu in Tel Aviv.

For years, Netanyahu has struggled to secure a strong enough majority in parliament to push through his agenda — an electoral deadlock that appeared to be broken this fall, but which Deri’s impeachment threatened to overthrow.

At stake is also the viability of other plans by extremist members of the governing coalition. In recent years, Netanyahu has allied with once-fringe ultra-conservative Jewish supremacists, who have agreed to help protect him from prosecution in exchange for a free hand to carry out their agenda, including a tightening of military occupation in the Palestinian territories. and restrictions on LGBTQ rights. Israelis and other minorities.

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One of those lawmakers, Itamar Ben Gvir, was himself convicted in 2007 of racist incitement and support for a terrorist group. Ben Gvir and his allies want to completely annex the Israeli-occupied West Bank without giving Palestinian residents equal rights, a move that would guarantee the demise of the two-state solution for peace in the region.

While public criticism of the government in Israel is common, public opposition to the occupation is much less common and in some cases criminalized. Tensions over the disputed territory have been high since last spring, when a wave of Palestinian attacks on Israelis was met with near-night Israeli military raids into the occupied West Bank. Israeli security forces have killed at least 18 Palestinians in the West Bank this year, after 2022 was the deadliest in nearly two decades, according to the United Nations.

While another major goal of Netanyahu’s government is the expansion of Israeli settlements on Palestinian land, Israeli authorities on Friday dismantled a small settler outpost near the northern West Bank town of Nablus, leading to a standoff with a the coalition’s other key ally, the head of the fundamentalist Religious Zionist party. Bezalel Smotrich. Members of the far-right party are boycotting Sunday’s cabinet meeting.

Deri’s Shas party controls 11 of the 64 seats that make up Netanyahu’s majority. The ultra-Orthodox legislator, one of Israel’s top political king-makers, previously served time in prison for breach of trust and financially related crimes. In December, Israel’s parliament passed a law allowing Deri to run for parliament despite his previous convictions.

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