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Israel vote allowing ministers to have criminal record paves way for new government

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Israel’s parliament has given preliminary approval to a law change that would allow people who have been convicted of crimes but spared jail time to become ministers.

The vote in the Knesset on Tuesday night is part of a broader legislative blitz designed to make good on a series of promises made by prime-minister-in waiting Benjamin Netanyahu to his religious and far-right coalition partners, and enable the formation of a new government by a December 21 deadline.

The move, which must be confirmed by three further votes, paves the way for Aryeh Deri, head of the ultra-Orthodox Shas party and a key Netanyahu ally, to take on the interior and health portfolios in the new government, despite being convicted of tax fraud earlier this year.

Existing Israeli law bars those sentenced to jail time in the preceding seven years from holding ministerial office, but does not specify whether this applies to suspended sentences.

Deri served a jail sentence in the early 2000s following a separate conviction for taking bribes during a previous stint as interior minister.

The outgoing justice minister Gideon Sa’ar slammed the proposed legal change as “distinctly personal legislation” that was not so much a constitutional amendment as “robbery in broad daylight”.

“Such brutal personal basic legislation, which is the first proposal put forward, is a sign of things to come,” he said.

Lawmakers also gave preliminary approval to two other changes that will grant far-reaching powers to Netanyahu’s extreme-right allies in what is set to be the most rightwing government in Israel’s history.

One will give the future national security minister Itamar Ben-Gvir, an ultranationalist convicted of inciting racism and supporting a terrorist group, expanded powers over Israel’s police force.

The outgoing security minister Omer Bar-Lev described the changes as “unhinged”, and argued they would damage the police force’s operational capacities. “It will subject the police completely to the politicians’ control, turning the police into a puppet on a string,” he said.

Former police commissioner Roni Alsheikh also slammed the move. “Once law enforcement is in the hands of a politician the result will be more violence and less personal security, but this time on a different scale,” he said in an interview with the newspaper Yediot Ahronot.

The second change will allow the far-right Religious Zionist party headed by Bezalel Smotrich to control the Civil Administration, which oversees construction and security co-ordination in the occupied West Bank.

Smotrich, who has a history of engaging in anti-Arab rhetoric, is a staunch advocate of expanding Israeli settlements in the West Bank. Most of the international community considers these settlements illegal.

The Palestinian ministry of foreign affairs said that expanding the powers of Smotrich and Ben-Gvir was a “direct threat to the security and stability of the region”. It warned in a statement on Wednesday that the legal changes were dangerous and would have “repercussions” for the chance of a two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

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