Netanyahu Lackey Bitan, Suspected of Bribery, Turns Down Ministerial Position

Appointment of Bitan and several others postponed after Supreme Court intervenes, raising concern that caretaker government shouldn't tap new ministers

Likud lawmaker David Bitan.
Moti Milrod

Knesset member David Bitan (Likud), a former coalition whip who is suspected of bribery, announced Friday that he was forgoing his appointment to head the agriculture portfolio. 

"Following the suspension of the ministers' appointments, I decided to give up the position," Bitan said, adding "it's a pity that an appointment that should have been made two years ago kept getting postponed for different excuses until we reached a point that makes this an empty post."

Bitan, who is considered a firm supporter of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, was promised by the premier that he would be tapped  minister several years ago. On Sunday, Netanyahu declared Bitan's appointment but on Thursday the government decided to postpone the appointment of several new ministers after the Supreme Court of Justice raised concerns that a caretaker government should not be allowed to appoint new ministers.

The current government is temporary, and will continue to function as such until Israel holds its third election in one year on March 2. 

Netanyahu resigned last week from various portfolios he held because of the indictment that has been filed against him for bribery, fraud and breach of trust in three criminal cases. 

The Israel Police in March recommended to indict his lackey Bitan for bribery in 12 different affairs; he is suspected of receiving thousands of shekels in cash from contractors and businessmen through his friend and former associated, Moshe Yosef. 

The appointments of Yifat Shasha-Biton to the Labor and Social Affairs portfolio, Yitzhak Cohen to the Construction and Housing Ministry and Tzipi Hotoveli to the Diaspora Affairs Ministry are all expected to be delayed. In light of the court's decision, Attorney General Avichai Mendelblit is required to provide a legal opinion that will determine whether a Knesset member who isn't a minister should be appointed a minister, or whether portfolios can only be given by a transitional government to those who are already acting  ministers. The new ministers were supposed to be officially tapped on Sunday during a government meeting. 

Supreme Court justices rejected on Thursday a petition against the appointment of Naftali Bennett to the Defense Ministry, but Supreme Court President Esther Hayut noted in her decision that there are cases in which ministers cannot be appointed by an interim government. "There should be discernment between cases in which a need arises – such as the need to replace a minister who resigned or who passed away – and cases in which there is no concern that a governmental vacuum will be caused, such as when the government aspires to change the division of responsibilities among serving ministers or appoint a new minister instead of an existing one," she wrote.