Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu dismissed on Sunday Interior and Health Minister Aryeh Deri, a key political ally, following a ruling by the country's top court against the appointment.
"It is with a heavy heart, with great sorrow and with an extremely difficult feeling that I am forced to transfer you from your position as a minister in the government," Netanyahu reportedly told Deri during a Cabinet meeting on Sunday.
The prime minister promised to look for legal routes to allow Deri to "contribute to the state of Israel," adding that the Supreme Court ruling "ignores the will of the people."
Last Wednesday, the Supreme Court ruled that Deri could not serve as Cabinet minister because he was convicted of tax offenses last year.
Deri chairs Israel's Shas party, a key party in Netanyahu's ruling coalition which holds 11 of the coalition's 64 seats. He is expected to be replaced by another member of the party, which had made his appointment a key demand during coalition negotiations with Netanyahu.
Deri later said he would continue to promote the government's agenda and attend regular meetings of the leaders of coalition parties.
"No judicial decision will prevent me from serving (my voters)," he said in a statement quoted by the AFP news agency.
Why was Deri fired?
Last year, Jerusalem Magistrate's Court approved a plea bargain signed by Deri. As per the deal, Deri pleaded guilty to tax offenses and was given a 12-month suspended prison sentence and a fine of NIS 180,000 (approximately €48,644).
As per Israeli law, the former Knesset member was barred from becoming Cabinet minister. Parliament amended the law in question last month, paving the way for his appointment.
On Wednesday, the Supreme Court judges ruled that the appointment "could not stand."
Tension with the Supreme Court
Netanyahu's Cabinet, which includes ultra-Orthodox and ultranationalist parties, is currently aiming to reform the top court.
The government introduced plans in early January to overhaul the judicial system, arguing that it is needed to prevent judicial overreach. Critics argue it could significantly weaken the Supreme Court and damage democracy in Israel.
The new government is proposing to grant parliament the power to overturn Supreme Court decisions with a simple majority vote, as well as control the appointment of judges. Protests against the proposed bill have recurred for the past few weeks.
rmt/sms (AFP, dpa, Reuters)