Analysis |

The Fall of Netanyahu's Right-hand Man Further Discredits His Judgment

Netanyahu should have understood that Coalition Chairman David Bitan, a man with a dubious past, could naturally fall hostage to people with special interests

Gidi Weitz
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Demonstrators in Tel Aviv raise a sign of coalition whip David Bitan and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu with the word 'crime' in Hebrew on Saturday, December 2.
Demonstrators in Tel Aviv raise a sign of coalition whip David Bitan and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu with the word 'crime' in Hebrew on Saturday, December 2.Credit: Tomer Appelbaum
Gidi Weitz

The suspicions against Coalition Chairman David Bitan will presumably end the unconcealed ambition of the rising political star, who managed to charm both opposition members and journalists, to become a minister. According to one of the Likud Knesset member’s friends, he was particularly eyeing the public security ministry.

Even as Bitan was being questioned, arrests were made of Rishon Letzion Mayor Dov Tzur, numerous well-connected businessmen with close ties to senior Likud officials, and the head of a crime organization, whose very name is enough to give you the shivers. The allegations are that the businessmen and members of the crime syndicate used their political connections to make a lot of money from a grandiose construction project in Rishon.

The investigation includes all the elements of a crime film – politicians who cunningly award tenders to businessmen who grease their palms, senior officials who allegedly served as lackeys of a crime organization, and an MK with excessive chutzpah who chattered himself to death, and not just on the Knesset podium or at a Shabbat cultural event.

Bitan remains one of the sheriffs of Rishon Letzion, ever since he was deputy mayor and held the planning and construction portfolio there - even after he became a star in Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s governing coalition. The evidence against him was collected months ago, and as far as is known, some of it is hard to argue with – strong evidence like recordings or documents. It’s reasonable to assume that he’ll be questioned again soon.

If the suspicions against him aren’t completely refuted, and that doesn’t seem likely, an even gloomier light will be shed on his vigorous efforts to promote the bill that would prevent the police from publishing their conclusions in investigations into public figures, or the corrupt law aimed at forbidding a person to record someone else without permission.

Several investigations in recent years have uncovered links between local politicians and organized crime. In Case 512, which focused on murders and trafficking in containers of cocaine, improper ties were noted between former officials in the Tirat Hacarmel municipality and skilled, well-connected drug dealers from the Abergil family. In the bribery investigation into Ramat Gan officials, there were indications that soldiers of crime organization head Amir Mulner had worked to get Mayor Yisrael Singer elected.

Fugitive offender Gabi Ben Harush, one of the main characters in the Commerce Bank embezzlement affair, had excellent ties with key figures in the Jerusalem municipality. In Ashdod, it was discovered that criminals were winning bids to provide services on the city’s beaches by using inside agents, public service employees who worked to advance the interests of the Miara crime family.

Meanwhile, crime syndicate head Shalom Domrani and his soldiers gave considerable attention to the elections in Netivot and Ashkelon, with their covert interest the large profits to be earned from landfills, beaches and construction bids. There was an investigation into forbidden ties between the Musli crime family and a senior Tel Aviv official.

Over the past decade it was revealed that Likud ministers maintained a hotline with Likud Central Committee members and heads of party member groups who were also being targeted by police intelligence. One such head, who served for years as an underworld arbitrator, had the personal phone numbers of government ministers in his phone book. The Rishon Letzion affair seems like another chapter on the links between big money, government power and organized crime.

If the suspicions are confirmed, they will further discredit the prime minister’s judgment in choosing loyalists and assigning them high-level positions. Netanyahu took a man with a dubious past, who went bankrupt and was being pursued by gray-market thugs, and made him chairman of his coalition. When a man with that kind of background gets a powerful position, it’s not going to end with a prize from the Movement for Quality Government.

Netanyahu should have understood that a person who fell millions of shekels into debt under mysterious circumstances would have the potential to fall hostage to people with special interests, whose dream is to have a man like Bitan, with his influence and connections, in their pockets. One can assume that Netanyahu read everything that was written about his loyal soldier in the media and the court transcripts, but preferred his personal and immediate interest – Bitan’s Rottweiler services – over any other interest.

“He must have been totally stupid to take bribes and then run for the Knesset, make himself as prominent as he did, and even conduct highly publicized battles with the attorney general and the police,” said someone who observed Bitan’s meteoric rise.

But what this rational man couldn’t understand is the deceptive feeling of immunity that power provides to those who achieve it. They’re convinced that no one would dare start up with them.

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