The court’s ruling came as Israel is embroiled in a dispute over the power of the judiciary. Netanyahu’s far-right government wants to weaken the Supreme Court, limit judicial oversight and give politicians more power. Critics say the move upends the country’s system of checks and balances and jeopardizes Israel’s democratic foundations.
According to his office, Netanyahu told Deri that he was removing him from office with “a heavy heart and great sadness.”
“This unfortunate decision ignores the will of the people,” Netanyahu told Deri. “I intend to find any legal way for him to continue contributing to the state of Israel.”
Deri said he would continue to lead his party and help the government advance its agenda, including legal reform.
Deri’s sacking is also expected to shake up Netanyahu’s ruling coalition, a union propelled by ultra-nationalist and ultra-Orthodox parties, including Deri’s Shas, which is the third-largest in government. While some Shas lawmakers threatened to shut down the fledgling coalition following the court ruling, it is expected to survive Deri’s absence and try to craft legislation that would pave the way for his speedy return.
Netanyahu is now expected to name other Shas members to replace Deri, at least temporarily.
The Netanyahu government, the most right-wing in Israel’s history, has made reform of the country’s judiciary a centerpiece of its agenda. He says an imbalance of power has given judges and government legal advisers too much influence over lawmaking and governance.
The plan has drawn harsh criticism from top legal officials, the chief justice, former lawmakers and tens of thousands of Israelis who have repeatedly come out to protest the reform.
Deri has faced legal problems in the past. He was sentenced to three years in prison for bribery, fraud and breach of trust in 2000 during a stint as interior minister in the 1990s. He served 22 months in prison but made a political comeback, retaking the reins from Shas in 2013. .