Ex-con Arye Dery Poised to Reprise Interior Minister Position

Over a decade ago, the current Negev and Galilee development minister served prison time for a corruption conviction.

Economy Minister Arye Dery
Yanai Yechiel

Shas party chief Arye Dery is poised to become Israel's next interior minister even though he was convicted of corruption the last time he held the job.

Both the Prime Minister’s Office and Dery’s associates denied Tuesday that any decision had been made to give him the job. But Shas sources confirmed that Dery wants the position, which was vacated when Silvan Shalom resigned from the cabinet and Knesset last week after multiple women accused him of sexual harassment.

Moreover, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu told his Likud party colleagues last week that even though Shalom was a Likud MK, he didn’t intend to retain the portfolio for Likud but would give it to Shas due to “coalition constraints.”

Senior Likud officials noted Tuesday that in August the High Court of Justice ruled that Dery’s criminal record didn’t bar him from a ministerial appointment, so there was no legal barrier to the move. But they predicted that if Dery were appointed interior minister, new High Court petitions against the decision would probably be filed.

Dery served as interior minister from 1988 to 1993, when he was forced to resign after being indicted for corruption. He was eventually convicted of taking bribes, fraud and breach of trust, and sentenced to three years in prison.

Due to his conviction, he was barred from public office for seven years after completing his sentence in 2002, returning to the Knesset only after the 2013 election and the cabinet only after the most recent election, in March 2015.

Netanyahu had intended to make Dery interior minister when the government was formed, but the decision was heavily criticized due to Dery’s criminal record. In April, Dery agreed to accept two other cabinet posts “to prevent slanderous talk.”

“For the sake of social justice, I ought to return to the Interior Ministry, but I’m attentive to public criticism and won’t enter the ministry on my left foot, so I won’t fight for the interior [portfolio],” he told Army Radio at the time. Dery was thus appointed economy minister and minister for Negev and Galilee development.

The Movement for Quality Government in Israel petitioned the High Court against those appointments, arguing that Dery’s criminal record made him unfit for any cabinet post, but the court rejected that petition in August.

In its ruling, the court said his appointment as a minister was unreasonable almost to the point of being illegal, but in light of the prime minister’s broad discretion in making cabinet appointments, it didn’t cross the line.

In November, Dery resigned as economy minister to avoid responsibility for either approving or thwarting a proposed deal between the government and the natural gas monopoly. Netanyahu took over the portfolio and approved the deal.