Bibi To Put Fox In Charge Of Chicken Coop

That could be the headline when Benjamin Netanyahu is expected to announce he is appointing convicted felon Aryeh Deri to be his Minister of the Interior. 

In 1999, Deri, the leader of the ultra-Orthodox Shas party, was convicted of bribery, fraud and breach of trust while he was Minister of the Interior between 1988 and 1993.  He served two years of a three-year sentence.

And now he wants his old job back, and apparently Netanyahu is willing to give it to him, according to Israel Today, Sheldon Adelson's newspaper that usually reflects the prime minister's thinking.

Netanyahu faces accusations of his own regarding excessive spending of public funds on his own lavish lifestyle.

Deri is demanding the Interior Ministry in exchange for support of the seven mandates his party won in last month's election.  In addition, Netanyahu is reported by Israel Today to be willing to meet Shas' demand for the Religious Affairs ministry, which would give it more power to tighten the religious establishment's stranglehold on the rest of the country.

It's not just the power and influence that comes with those two ministries but, as Deri demonstrated his last time around, the hundreds of millions of sheqels at their disposal, a disproportionately large share of which can be expected to finance Shas' own institutions.

It is well known in Israeli politics that Shas's votes are up for sale to the highest bidder; it has a reputation for using its cabinet mandates to buy access to the treasury and to demand taxpayer help underwriting its widely criticized and deeply flawed educational system.

Not long after Deri got out of prison and served a hiatus from politics, he sought his old job from his mentor, the late Rabbi Ovadia Yosef, Shas's spiritual leader.

Deri is not the only one in the souk with Netanyahu. As the PM cobbles together a new government, which he says he wants to be more right wing than its predecessor – he just got an extra two weeks to finish the job – he must feel a lit like Monte Hall playing "Let's Make A Deal," except the prizes are much more expensive.  The fate of a nation could be at stake.

Many deals are for policies parties want the new government to pursue; some are financial, seeking funding for pet projects, and some are personal, as in the case of the leader of a small party who dissolved it in exchange for a coveted diplomatic post.

From the largest to the smallest, each party demands generous rewards for its votes, and every deal is temporary.  The only mystery is how long after the new government takes office will it be before you begin reading about coalition partners seeking to hold the government hostage with threats to bring it down unless they extract more rewards?

The Movement for Quality Government in Israel has condemned the possible appointment and pointed out that Deri has never expressed regret for his crimes and instead "led a wild smear campaign against government authority and law enforcement."  A Deri spokesman responded, "Leave us alone," reported the Jerusalem Post.

Yesh Atid leader Yair Lapid appealed to Netanyahu not to appoint Deri.  "Do not leave the public purse in the hands of such a person, Mr. Prime Minister.  This is everyone's money," he wrote.  Yesh Atid intends to join the opposition.

Lapid quoted the court's decision, which called Deri "someone who consistently bases his way of life on bribery" and "the desire…to personally enrich himself quickly from his public positions."

Netanyahu has a choice to make: Deri or protecting people's faith in the integrity of their government. It should be a no-brainer.

About the Author
Douglas M. Bloomfield is a syndicated columnist, Washington lobbyist and consultant. He spent nine years as the legislative director and chief lobbyist for AIPAC.