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Deri’s J’Accuse

Aryeh Deri responds to Thomas Friedman

Aryeh Deri is worried. From the porch of his Har Nof home, he enjoys a clear view of the lush Jerusalem Hills, yet all he can see in his mind’s eye is what’s happening in Washington, D.C.

One of Israel’s most seasoned politicians, second only to Netanyahu, Deri made clear in a conversation with Mishpacha that he has no intention of rushing back to the government table, even if the first stage of the divisive judicial reforms clear the way for his return to the Cabinet, over the High Court’s objections.

Before the government initiated the judicial reform legislation, Deri — alongside Ron Dermer and President Isaac Herzog — spearheaded efforts to arrive at broad consensus on the reasonableness standard and avoid a showdown with the opposition, and more importantly, the American administration.

Deri first saw US-Israeli tensions up close in the ’80s. As interior minister under Yitzhak Shamir, he saw the Israeli government take on Secretary of State James Baker in Bush Sr.’s administration. From the vantage point of experience, Deri feels the roots of the current conflict are fundamentally different: this time, Israel is fighting an internal delegitimization, self-inflicted by Jewish voices at home and abroad.

In the spirit of the Nine Days, Aryeh Deri sat down with the Hebrew Mishpacha’s Yossi Elituv and me for an interview on the balcony of his home, after a long period of silence, to voice his concern and make sure it’s heard overseas.


The world sees a right-wing Israeli government damaging its ties with Washington. President Herzog was invited to Washington and received the red-carpet treatment. Netanyahu did end up speaking with Biden and received a vague invitation for some future date, but for all intents and purposes, the man is a persona non grata in the American capital.

“In the first two to three weeks after the judicial reform legislation was announced, the signals we were getting from the Americans were very different. As someone who was in the room when these conversations were held, I can tell you that the feedback we received from the Americans was, ‘This is an internal Israeli affair. We won’t intervene.’ ”

So how did things take such a drastic turn for the worse?

“Our own people are to blame. And I can guarantee this: The ones who egged on Biden to speak out openly against the reform and deny Netanyahu a visit are Jews, our own people, in Israel and America.”

Did President Herzog commit a faux pas by jumping on the invitation he received? He must have realized how it would be interpreted.

“In fairness to Herzog, the invitation to speak before Congress on the occasion of Israel’s 75th anniversary came from House Speaker Kevin McCarthy. And since he was coming to Washington anyway, Biden invited him to the White House. I wouldn’t judge Herzog — at the end of the day, we want to maintain our ties with Washington, and I’m sure that’s what he has in view. His speech before both houses of Congress was outstanding, and that also stands to his credit.”

You contend that Israeli and American Jews are fomenting delegitimization of Israel in Washington. Can you provide specific names? And is this issue being discussed within the Israeli government?

“That conversation isn’t taking place in official venues, but those in the know will understand what I’m talking about. I do know names of people involved, both here and in the US.”

Including Israeli politicians currently serving?

“Yes, sadly. A significant element in the opposition has acted to prevent Netanyahu from going to Washington. They see it as part of their struggle to bring him down, to portray him as the cause of the crisis.”


After the High Court disqualified him from serving as minister, Deri was invited to continue participating in meetings of the security cabinet as an observer, but after one or two meetings, Deri decided to forgo the pleasure. When we asked him why he doesn’t attend the meetings, despite the fact that security officials want him there as a counterbalance to certain ministers, he replied: “I’m not an observer. Either I have responsibilities or I don’t, but I’m not sitting on the sidelines. I continue to contribute and influence on critical issues.”

And if there’s one area where he feels his help is needed, it’s US-Israel relations, which have seemingly gone over the edge. As someone who speaks to Netanyahu regularly and receives constant updates from Strategic Affairs Minister Ron Dermer and the PM’s military secretary, Deri emphasizes that military cooperation has not been impacted.

“I have to tell you that on the security level, the Americans continue to work with us,” he says. “But there’s no question that the situation is damaging for Israel. And the world — especially the Arab nations who are used to seeing Israel and the US hand in glove — can see this, which is damaging. The fact that Biden hasn’t invited Netanyahu and won’t meet with him is damaging to Israel’s security and international standing. After the latest conversation between Netanyahu and Biden, I hope that the meeting they discussed will indeed take place, at the soonest possible date, because it’s important for Israel’s international standing. Our special relationship with the US is part of Israel’s strength, and we have to protect it at all costs.”

Three former IDF chiefs of staff — Ehud Barak, Bougie Yaalon, and Dan Chalutz — are on the front lines of the fight against judicial reform. These are people whose service to the State of Israel is unimpeachable. And you’re saying they’re now a threat to Israeli security?

“Correct, and I say that with great sadness,” he responds unhesitatingly. “They’ve literally said that they’re willing to burn this country down. The right has always been accused of being violently partisan. Now the left is making it clearer than ever that they’re the ones with no boundaries. Backed up by the press and the justice system, they’ve convinced that they’re right, and as far as they’re concerned, if they don’t get what they want, the country can burn.”

To conclude, Deri addresses New York Times columnist Thomas Friedman’s scathing rebuke to the Israeli government in an opinion piece penned after a personal sit-down with President Biden.

“In his column, Friedman posed the question of whether a change to the US constitution could be done in a matter of a month or two. My response? Repeating a lie doesn’t make it true.

“The truth is that the reasonableness standard has no basis in Israeli law. Former High Court president Aharon Barak conjured up this mechanism out of nowhere, and it’s grown to monstrous proportions. All we want is to cut it down a bit.

“Here in Israel, everyone knows the truth, but it’s important for these things to be brought to the attention of readers and policy makers overseas. Don’t believe the slanders coming from Jews who have sadly lost all their boundaries. Israeli democracy is strong and stable. We’re here to fix, not to destroy.”


(Originally featured in Mishpacha, Issue 971)

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