It cannot be said often enough: one of the many good things about Israel is its robust law enforcement system. Nobody is above the law here. Those convicted in years past include a former prime minister, a former president and several cabinet members. And Prime Minister Netanyahu himself is currently under police investigation for serious offences.
Unfortunately, too many Israeli elected officials seek to subvert the law. The man in the news now is the minister of the interior Arieh Deri. The latest information is that the police is said to bring evidence that he, his lawyer-brother, his wife and perhaps others around him should be indicted for illicit property deals, tax offences, money laundering, bribery, breach of trust and tax evasion.
Crimes of the same ilk brought Deri to prison in the year 2000. He was then sentenced to three years but because of good behaviour was released in less than two. After the required cooling off period, he returned to politics, was re-elected to the Knesset in 2013 and became minister of the interior in 2016 regaining the same portfolio that he had before he went to jail.
While he was out of politics, the Shas Party (the Sephardi Orthodox party in Israeli politics) was headed by Eli Yishai. When Deri returned, Yishai was removed, apparently with the blessing of the guru of Shas, the late Rabbi Ovadiah Yosef, who had been Sephardi Chief Rabbi of Israel. There were recriminations. Yishai formed a new party but it didn’t get enough votes to gain a Knesset seat.
Deri presents himself as a devout practitioner of Judaism and a devoted leader of Jews. Thus, in the recent elections for mayor of Jerusalem, he described Ofer Berkovitch, a secular Jew who might have won had not Deri called him “the devil’s recruit,” which may have dissuaded some Jerusalemites from voting for him. Soon after the elections, Berkovitch threatened to sue Deri, but he may now leave it to the police to deal with him.
The fact that Deri should be now under suspicion for the same offences for which he went to jail some 18 years ago suggests that, in addition to punishment, he may also need therapy. If Deri is convicted of similar offences as last time, he may need more than a prison sentence to come right, unless we’re to assume that repeat offenders are beyond redemption and must be incarcerated. Even Deri’s apparent religious observance doesn’t seem to be enough to keep him on the straight and narrow. Nor does his reputed intelligence and political acumen.
Though I haven’t heard or read any negative comments from members of Deri’s own party or representatives of the government coalition of which he’s a part, opposition politicians have had much to say. Avi Gabbay, the leader of the Zionist Union, who in his previous incarnation as a member of the Kulanu Party was a government minister, described the possible charges against Deri as indicative of “a culture of government corruption.”
Yair Lapid, the leader of the Yesh Atid Party, reflected that yet “another minister joins the elected officials who are suspected of corruption.” It seems that Lapid had the prime minister in mind when he wandered whether the investigation of Mr. Netanyahu is the reason why he hasn’t demanded Deri’s resignation.
But we don’t need to seek to score political points to voice our concern, nay a sense of alarm.
Jerusalem 21.11.18 Dow Marmur