Netanyahu's Right-hand Man David Bitan Resigns as Coalition Whip Amid Corruption Probe

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Netanyahu and David Bitan at a party event, August 2017.
Netanyahu and David Bitan at a party event, August 2017.Credit: Tomer Appelbaum
Jonathan Lis
Jonathan Lis

Likud lawmaker David Bitan, a close associate of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, said Wednesday he is resigning as coalition chairman amid the corruption investigation against him.

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Reports have been confirmed that Likud MK David Amsalem will replace Bitan. Amsalem and Bitan are the key figures behind the so-called recommendations law, which would prevent the police from publicizing their recommendations on indictments.

The police suspect Bitan of fraud, breach of trust and accepting bribes during his stint as deputy mayor of Rishon Letzion, a city south of Tel Aviv. The suspicions against Bitan are unrelated to the corruption probes against Netanyahu.

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In a statement Wednesday, Bitan said he asked Netanyahu to relieve him of his post because "the current situation makes it difficult for me to operate and I do not want to damage the coalition's work." Bitan added that he would remain a Likud Knesset member and "do everything in my power to continue to represent an entire constituency that has put its trust in me." 

David AmsalemCredit: Ilya Melinkov

Before entering the Knesset, Bitan was elected to the Rishon Letzion city council in 1988 and promoted to deputy mayor in 2005. From 2008 to 2010, and again from 2013, he chaired the local zoning board and held the city’s engineering portfolio. During this period, Bitan went into debt and borrowed from so-called gray-market lenders.

He is suspected of receiving over 1 million shekels ($285,000) in bribes from a high-profile figure in Israel's organized-crime world. Hussam Jarushi is suspected of paying Bitan's debts in exchange for favors including altering the bidding process for groundwork so that the contract would be awarded to a friend of the Jarushis.

Earlier this month, Bitan told associates that he had no intention of leaving the Knesset and would be re-elected to another term. “Everything else is nonsense,” he said.

Over the past three weeks, tens of thousands of Israelis have attended Saturday evening rallies against government corruption. The protesters – most of them in Tel Aviv – oppose a bill that would prevent the police from publicizing their recommendations on indictments.

The bill was widely believed to have been drafted to protect Netanyahu, who is currently under investigation in two high-profile corruption scandals. Bowing to public pressure a day after the first rally, Netanyahu announced that he had asked lawmakers to draw up a new version of the bill so that it would not apply to the investigations against him.  

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