The sight of an Israeli government minister with a criminal conviction has become shamefully common over the past two decades. Even ministers who have served time in prison is not rare. It has also happened that despite a prior conviction, a minister even received an upgrade in the cabinet. However, until now, it has never happened that a freed convict who had been a minister was again appointed to the cabinet – and moreover, received back to the very ministry in which he committed the offenses for which he was jailed.
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This could be the Arye Dery precedent, if Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu yields to the Shas leader’s demand to receive the Interior Ministry, where in the late 1980s he committed bribery, fraud and breach of trust, and for which he was convicted and served two years in prison.
Dery’s judges at the time wrote that his acts were not an “isolated failure, but persistence in a lifestyle based on foundations of bribery.” During Dery’s tenure as interior minister, municipalities and local councils learned how to curry favor with key figures in the Interior Ministry, and conducted themselves accordingly. This heritage of corruption became entrenched and continued under the rule of other parties, as can be seen by the current investigation of Deputy Interior Minister Faina Kirshenbaum (Yisrael Beiteinu).
While he was in prison, another indictment against Dery was shelved, partly because he had supposedly retired from public life. But when he was released from prison – and ahead of the end of the seven-year ban on his return to the Knesset – he prepared to return to the leadership of his party, Shas, and from there to the joint running of the country. A criminal record keeps many citizens from serving in certain positions, but the law does not prevent a person with such a record from being interior minister.
Dery’s return to the scene of the crime seems assured: Without Shas, Likud will not have a government based on one of its “natural” partners. And without Dery, Shas will not be part of the government. Dery seems destined to be interior minister again, and even be one of the seven or eight ministers in the Ministerial Committee for Security, which makes fateful decisions. We should not accept this edict, which stems from political wheeler-dealing.
During the election campaign, Dery frequently spoke in the name of the “transparent people” and appointed himself the poor’s knight in shining armor: Let him take the social affairs portfolio and make good on his campaign promises to the poor. A black flag flies over his return to the Interior Ministry.