Only I Decide if Arye Dery Is Kosher for Interior Ministry, Says Attorney General

State prosecutor had told cronies behind closed doors that he can't defend the appointment in court because of Dery’s criminal record.

Economy Minister Arye Dery
Yanai Yechiel

The only one empowered to decide if Arye Dery is "kosher" to be Israel's interior minister, again, is the attorney general, Yehuda Weinstein said Tuesday, following the Haaretz report that State Prosecutor Shai Nitzan told associates he couldn't defend the appointment in court because of Dery’s criminal record.

"In internal conversations, the attorney-general hears the full range of opinions and, ultimately, rules," the sitting attorney general said. "His ruling is the only one, there are no others, and it reflects the position of the state. That is how it has been and that is how it will be."

State Prosecutor Shai Nitzan is believed to have told cronies at the Justice Ministry that the appointment of Shas party leader Arye Dery as interior minister, which was approved by the Knesset on Monday, is legally untenable in light of Dery’s criminal record, and that he should be disqualified from service in the post.

The Knesst approved Dery’s appointment by a vote of 54 to 43 late Monday after it was unanimously supported by the cabinet on Sunday. The appointment is being challenged in a petition filed by the Movement for Quality Government, and Nitzan’s stance on the matter will pose a substantial legal hurdle in the government’s defense of the appointment.

The NGO is calling on the High Court of Justice to intervene, saying that Dery is being allowed to return “to the same crime scene where he stole public funds and corrupted the entire system of government.”

Nitzan’s stance contradicts the position of Attorney General Yehuda Weinstein, who has said the appointment would not violate the law, although there would still be room for public debate of the matter.

Nitzan expressed his views in discussions to develop the stance that the State Prosecutor’s office is to present to the High Court of Justice in response to the petition against Dery’s appointment. In the early 1990s, Dery was suspended as interior minister following allegations that he took bribes while serving in public posts. He was convicted and sentenced to three years in prison, and was released in July 2002 after serving two-thirds of his sentence.

It is not reasonable for Dery to return to the Interior Ministry, where the corrupt acts of which Dery was convicted were committed, Nitzan is understood to have said. Nitzan is said to have made clear, however, that there are no grounds to barring Dery from serving in another cabinet post, despite the difficulties that it poses.

Last year Dery served as economy minister. He then resigned over policy differences and was appointed Negev and Galilee development minister. Monday's Knesset vote enables him to replace Silvan Shalom who stepped down from the interior ministry post recently after claims of sexual harassment were filed against him.

The Justice Ministry declined to comment on internal discussions.

In a legal opinion submitted to Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, Attorney General Weinstein wrote that “the appointment was not tainted on the legal level by extreme unreasonableness.”

Nevertheless, Weinstein acknowledged that when the High Court of Justice considered the legality of Dery’s appointment to any cabinet position, it was decided that such an appointment raised legal difficulties. “It has even been deemed by the Supreme Court as on the borderline of the area of reasonable, and the force of such rulings is also valid with respect to the appointment proposed at this time.”

Weinstein made specific reference to a court ruling by Justice Uzi Vogelman on Dery’s appointment to the cabinet that allowed that the matter could remain the subject of public debate even if no legal grounds have been found for intervention in the appointment.

The Knesset vote on Dary was proceeded by a heated debate during which opposition politicians criticized Netanyahu’s decision to appoint Dery to the vacant position despite his criminal history.