Netanyahu closer to far-right Israel gov’t with new legislation

Amendments include revising ministerial fitness standards, meaning officials with suspended sentences can serve in government.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Aryeh Deri
Israeli prime minister-designate has served in government with Shas leader Aryeh Deri before - a new amendment passed by the Knesset will allow Deri to serve as a minister despite a conviction [File: Sebastian Scheiner/AP Photo]

Israeli Prime Minister-designate Benjamin Netanyahu has moved one step further towards establishing a government after parliament approved divisive legislation that will benefit his far-right and ultra-Orthodox coalition partners.

One of the highly controversial amendments on Tuesday will allow an Israeli politician to serve as a government minister despite a conviction for tax fraud.

Aryeh Deri, the leader of the ultra-Orthodox Shas party, was previously given a suspended sentence for his tax offences – a move which could have seen him barred from politics for seven years.

However, the amendment has revised the standards of ministerial fitness, meaning that only politicians with custodial prison sentences can be prevented from serving in government.

After hours of debate, 63 of the 120 parliamentarians voted in favour and 55 against the change.

Soon after the legislation was passed, Israel’s Supreme Court said it would hear an appeal against Deri’s appointment by a group of scientists, academics and former diplomats called “Democracy’s Bastion”.

The second amendment to Israel’s government law will ultimately enable the leader of the pro-settler Religious Zionism party, Bezalel Smotrich, to take up the post of the second minister within the defence ministry.

Smotrich is considered an ardent supporter of settlement expansion in the occupied West Bank.

Jewish settlements in the West Bank and East Jerusalem are considered illegal under international law. Smotrich is also to be given influence over the administration of the occupied West Bank and the lives of Palestinians.

Deri is expected to serve as finance minister in two years, in a rotation deal with Smotrich, who will occupy the position first.

The government wants to pass another amendment that would expand the powers of the national security minister to include not only the police but also the border police in the occupied West Bank. The far-right politician Itamar Ben-Gvir is to be given the post.

Netanyahu has his own legal trouble, with an ongoing trial on corruption charges. Critics have said that he will attempt to undermine the Israeli judiciary in an attempt to stop the trial from continuing.

‘Most corrupt’ government

After his election victory on November 1, Netanyahu succeeded in forming a far-right religious coalition. His government plans wide-reaching legislative changes and a deliberate weakening of the judicial system. According to experts, the changes could also lead to a scrapping of the ongoing corruption trial against Netanyahu.

The legislation, along with pledges to curb Supreme Court powers, anti-gay statements from incoming coalition members and calls to allow a business to refuse services to people based on religious grounds, have alarmed liberal Israelis as well as Western allies while drawing criticism from rights groups, businesses and serving officials.

In view of the changes, outgoing Defence Minister Benny Gantz warned against a further escalation of violence and bloodshed in the region.

Israel’s outgoing Prime Minister Yair Lapid said that after the legal changes that have been passed so far, the new government had already proven to be “the most corrupt ever”, even before its inauguration on December 29.

Netanyahu has said that he will govern for all Israelis, even as his government is likely to be the most right-wing in the country’s history. He has repeatedly said that he will safeguard civil rights and will not allow any harm to the country’s Palestinian minority or to the LGBTQ community.

Yet at least two members of the Religious Zionist party have suggested that businesses and even doctors should be allowed to turn away members based on their sexual orientation.

Speaking on Kan public radio, Simcha Rothman said that a religious hotel owner can deny service to a gay couple “if it stands in opposition to and harms his religious sensitivities”.

His fellow party member, Orit Strock, told the same radio station that “a doctor who has to provide some sort of treatment that goes against his religious beliefs – as long as there are enough other doctors who can provide the treatment, you should not force him”.

The comment was made in the context of one of the coalition’s demands to allow such discrimination to become legal on the basis of religious freedom.

Source: Al Jazeera and news agencies