If you lie, you have to pay. This is the crux of what the Supreme Court said in its ruling on Wednesday when they struck down Aryeh Deri’s appointment as a cabinet minister.
When he did lie? When he was convicted for the first time in 1999 for bribery and then for the second time in 2022, when he was found guilty of tax evasion. The third lie was the day after the second conviction, which was the most outrageous of all lies: He said that he had never actually meant to pledge to leave elected office when he did just that before the lower court.
He tried to outsmart the system by saying that while he was resigning from the Knesset at the time, he could continue being involved in politics and run for office again. As the court said in its majority opinion, “The charade that he put on about leaving elected office and then his about-face right after, raise questions on whether he was acting in good faith, make it very hard to approve his appointment, as well as complicate the unreasonable nature of having him serve.”
Deri lied, but is it the court’s job to disqualify him over this? It’s not clear. In the lower court, Deri was convicted and was told that it was up to the Central Elections Committee to decide if his convictions carry moral turpitude. But Deri and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu did not want to go through that route and instead opted to amend the law through fast-track legislation. This was legal but had a foul smell to it.
The right must realize that it can’t have it both ways: Don’t use Basic Laws as Play-Doh that can be molded at will and then cry foul when the Supreme Court does the very same thing. Basic Laws are either sacred or not.
In these circumstances, we must look at the minority opinion in the ruling. Rather than joining the majority, Justice Yosef Elron said Deri must ask the Central Elections Committee to decide whether his sentence for tax evasion involves moral turpitude. It’s likely that the answer to that would have been yes, and we would have reached the same result. But it would have still been better had the majority embraced this position and let the process play itself out.
Deri is right that he has had a miscarriage of justice in his trial. Any ordinary person would have just paid a fine to the tax authorities. But in his case, the system raised the stakes so high that it could not back down and settle it on some procedural grounds. The prosecution didn’t seek justice; it wanted to save face.
Having said all that, Deri should have not resorted to manipulation and deceit, and neither should he disregard the ruling from Wednesday. What he can do is continue with the judicial reforms he has been promoting as if this ruling was never made. In fact, it is essential that the two things are handled separately so that the government’s actions don’t appear to be construed as a means of whitewashing liars.