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High Court issues temporary injunction against Shas food stamp program

The High Court of Justice on Thursday issued a temporary injunction against the Shas-run Interior Ministry’s food stamp program, ahead of its scheduled rollout for the upcoming Jewish High Holidays.

The decision was met with opprobrium by Shas and Justice Minister Yariv Levin, a leading proponent of coalition efforts to pass legislation overhauling the judicial system, who claimed it further underscored the need to curb the judiciary’s powers.

In the ruling, the court said it was issuing the injunction because once rolled out, the program cannot be undone. The ministry was therefore instructed to wait until the end of the legal proceedings.

The court stressed the injunction does not indicate any prior determination for or against the program, which is being challenged for appearing to prioritize Haredi families at the expense of others battling food insecurity.

The Interior Minister had hoped to start divvying out the NIS 400 million ($104 million) in stamps ahead of the Jewish New Year, which starts next Friday evening. It is also seeking to distribute another NIS 300 million ($78 million) ahead of the two holiday periods in 2024.

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Responding to the ruling, Shas MK Uriel Busso railed at the High Court’s “brutality.”

Senior members of the ultra-Orthodox party also lashed out at Justice Alex Stein, who issued the ruling, and the Movement for Quality Government in Israel, which filed the petition, in anonymous comments to Hebrew media.

“They are out of touch,” the unnamed officials were quoted as saying.

Shas leader Aryeh Deri with Likud’s Yariv Levin during a meeting of right-wing parties in the Knesset on June 14, 2021. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

In a fiery statement, Levin accused the court of “harming the weakest and poorest members of society” and said, “the time has come that judges from all parts of the nation will sit on the Supreme Court.” The court is due to hold a pair of hearings in the coming weeks on the only piece of the legislation in the judicial shakeup to so far be passed into law, as well as Levin’s refusal to convene the Judicial Selection Committee while he pushes to remake the panel to give the coalition control over judicial appointments.

“Judges who understand the souls and needs of millions of citizens, who are connected to the values of the majority of the nation,” Levin, a member of the ruling Likud party, said in a statement. “Therefore we must not give up on our right to a diverse and fair judicial system.”

Under the program, families with large numbers of children will be eligible to receive vouchers for NIS 2,400 ($639) per month. After Finance Ministry pressure, the Interior Ministry agreed to partially change the eligibility criteria to allow more Holocaust survivors and single parents to benefit from the aid, but some 12,000 will be left out.

“Right before the holidays we succeeded in preventing discrimination against Holocaust survivors,” Elad Shraga, head of the Movement for Quality Government, said in response to Thursday’s High Court decision.

“We will stand guard so the eligibility for food stamps is not in accordance with Aryeh Deri’s moral principles,” he added, referring to the leader of Shas.

The Justice Ministry last month gave the Interior Ministry the green light to roll out the program, a significant win for Shas ahead of the October 31 municipal elections.

The program has long been associated with Deri, who made it a central part of his party’s campaign ahead of the November 2022 Knesset elections. Deri was briefly interior minister following the government’s formation in late December but was removed from his post weeks later over a recent conviction for tax evasion, leading him to tap Shas MK Moshe Arbel to serve in his stead.