Analysis

Everything Wrong With Israel's Government, Reflected in Netanyahu's New Right-hand Man

The divisive, unpopular lawmaker David Amsalem is exactly what Netanyahu doesn't need with the police breathing down his neck

Benjamin Netanyahu and David Amsalem, October 3, 2017.
Emil Salman

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu was quoted yesterday as saying that David Amsalem’s appointment as coalition whip was compensation for his loyalty. A lot of senior Likud members who were Netanyahu’s loyal allies and partners during his many years in politics – and who were neglected, betrayed, and thrown to the dogs – raised their eyebrows. Since when does Netanyahu show gratitude to his supporters?

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And why was the prize given Amsalem? Presumably thanks to the misbegotten police recommendations bill, the corrupt initiative to legislate immunity for the prime minister immunity from the police investigation that has been stymied with hostility, the repeated, compulsive attacks on the Israel Police and its detectives and the ugly personal harassment of Police Commissioner Roni Alsheich because of his supposedly excessive salary.

Actually, Amsalem’s appointment as David Bitan’s replacement is another link in the chain of decisions that prove Netanyahu has lost his powers of judgment. The choice of the MK whose name has become synonymous with everything that’s wrong with Likud nowadays, whose every media appearance chases sane Likud voters into the arms of Moshe Kahlon, Yair Lapid and Naftali Bennett, is totally contrary to the prime minister’s personal and political interests on the eve of the completion of the police investigation and the transferring of Cases 1000 and 2000 to the prosecution.

Amsalem is undoubtedly the bluntest and most vehement voice against the police, whom he knows from the less pleasant side of the table in the interrogation rooms. There has never been anyone like him in the Knesset. Compared to him, David Bitan is a beacon of refinement and tact. Bitan, who is tied up in the corruption investigation in Rishon Letzion, where he had been deputy mayor, at least has personal charm, a sense of humor and a friendliness that has made him a popular MK among all the Knesset factions, without exception. It’s no coincidence that no MK, even among the Meretz purists, called on him to resign his post as coalition whip because of the severe allegations against him.

Amsalem has none of those qualities. His conduct so far, especially in the Knesset Interior Committee, which he chairs, has made him many enemies. Even his colleagues are fed up with his style. He provokes fear and antagonism. His selection for the most important role in the Knesset is a reckless one.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu attends the weekly cabinet meeting at his office in Jerusalem, Israel, Sunday Dec. 17, 2017.
Abir Sultan / AP

In his delicate situation, Netanyahu should have found someone calm, gentle and amenable, someone who would know how to behave with coalition partners and opposition rivals. He could have appointed other members of his faction – Amir Ohana, Miki Zohar or Yoav Kish, for example. None are any less experienced than Amsalem; all are in their first term in the Knesset, and all would want to work hard and succeed.

But Netanyahu went with Amsalem, which is his right. He’s like a soccer coach who’s trying to win the championship not with the best players, but with the most rabid fan who curses the loudest.