Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has dismissed a senior minister from office, complying with a Supreme Court ruling amid a deepening rift over the power of the courts.
Netanyahu announced he was firing Aryeh Deri, who served as interior and health minister, at a meeting of the Cabinet of Israel on Sunday.
Israel’s Supreme Court decided last week that Deri could not serve as a Cabinet minister because of a conviction last year over tax offences.
“It is with a heavy heart, with great sorrow and with an extremely difficult feeling that I am forced to transfer you from your position as a minister in the government,” Netanyahu told Deri during the Cabinet meeting, according to a statement from the PM’s office.
Deri, the leader of the ultra-Orthodox Jewish party Shas, was appointed to Netanyahu’s Cabinet last month after Israel’s November elections.
The Supreme Court ruled on Wednesday that the prime minister “must remove Deri from his position”, citing his 2022 plea-bargain conviction for tax fraud.
Barak Seri, a confidant of Deri, told Army Radio earlier on Sunday that the portfolios would be kept by other members of Shas as it remains in the coalition.
Reporting from West Jerusalem, Al Jazeera’s Imran Khan said the decision was “a very big blow to Benjamin Netanyahu”, who has sought to curb the powers of the country’s top court.
Netanyahu “said that he was trying to find a way back for Aryeh Deri to get back into the government”, Khan said.
Last month, Israeli lawmakers passed a law allowing anyone convicted of offences but not given a custodial sentence to serve as a minister.
The judges ruled Deri’s appointment “could not stand” since it was “extremely unreasonable”, according to a summary of the court’s decision.
However, Netanyahu said on Sunday that the ruling, which permits Deri’s Shas party to remain in government, “ignores the will of the people”.
The PM said he will endeavour to find any legal way for Deri to still “contribute to the state of Israel”.
Netanyahu, Israel’s longest-serving prime minister, is determined to overhaul the judiciary by introducing reforms that would curb the Supreme Court’s powers. It would also give more powers to lawmakers in appointing judges and overriding Supreme Court decisions.
The plans have sparked mass protest in Tel Aviv as tens of thousands of Israelis rallied on Saturday against the controversial suggested reforms.
In Israel, which does not have a constitution, the Supreme Court currently has the authority to repeal laws it considers discriminatory or unreasonable.