Benizri's Empty Shoes (And Knesset Seat) Not Easy to Fill

The removal of Shas MK Shlomo Benizri from the Knesset following his conviction Monday for receiving bribes - a ruling that carries with it the determination of moral turpitude which automatically removes an MK from his post - has left a void in the Knesset: it still remains unclear who will take up Benizri's seat in the Knesset.

One option that is being examined is whether Mazur Bahayne, the 13th Shas candidate on its election list for 2006, is eligible to fill the position.

Bahayne is a rabbi in the Ethiopian community in Be'er Sheva, and his salary is paid by the Be'er Sheva Religious Authority. Article 7 of the Basic Law: the Knesset, states that a list of election candidates cannot include rabbis whose service is remunerated by the state.

In a declaratory statement presented to the Central Elections Committee prior to the 2006 elections, Bahayne stated that he is the rabbi of a community in Be'er Sheva. The committee received a list of the rabbis whose wages are paid by the state but his name did not appear. Therefore, in the initial sifting, Bahayne's name did not surface as potentially problematic.

In the Knesset there are claims that the Ministry of Religious Affairs, which prepared the list for the Elections Committee, should have included Bahayne's name.

The legal conundrum is now in the hands of the Knesset legal counselor, Nurit Elstein, who is expected to interpret the article in the Basic Law.

Sources in the Knesset said that there have been precedents in the past of rabbis who were elected to the Knesset and took a leave of absence from their rabbinic duties.

Another problem is that the Knesset has never established who really decides in such instances: is it the Knesset Speaker, MK Dalia Itzik (Kadima), or the Central Elections Committee.

Itzik is currently in the United States and there are plans to hold a conference call with her on the matter.

Knesset sources said that it is likely that the speaker will be the one who will decide in the end.