Bitan withdraws candidacy for minister, three other appointments frozen

Bitan’s appointment was especially controversial since the police have recommended in March last year that he be indicted for bribery, money laundering and other corruption charges.

David Bitan in Knesset on February 5, 2018. (photo credit: MARC ISRAEL SELLEM)
David Bitan in Knesset on February 5, 2018.
(photo credit: MARC ISRAEL SELLEM)
Likud MK David Bitan withdrew his candidacy for an appointment as agriculture minister and three other scheduled ministerial appointments were frozen on Friday due to criticism from the High Court of Justice. 

The appointments of Deputy Foreign Minister Tzipi Hotovelly (Likud) as diaspora affairs minister, Deputy Finance Minister Yitzhak Cohen (Shas) as housing and construction minister, and Yifat Shasha Biton as welfare minister were all frozen. 

“As opposes to a government which enjoys the trust of the Knesset which grants it clear freedom of action in everything regarding the appointment of minister, an interim government must refrain from enacting changes to its composition, when such a step is not required for the correct functioning [of the government], the High Court wrote. 

The High Court did not explicitly forbid such appointments but indicated that they might be struck down by the court if they were made.

“There is a need for moderation, and there is a suspicion that the government will act for political gain and for this reason, it is preferable to avoid such appointments,” the High Court justices wrote. 

The ministerial vacancies opened up because Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu held several other ministerial portfolios before his was indicted, a development which required him to resign from his other ministerial positions. 

But following the High Court criticism of the new appointments, it was decided to push them off indefinitely. 

Bitan’s appointment was especially controversial since the police have recommended in March last year that he be indicted for bribery, money laundering and other corruption charges.

Attorney General Avichai Mandelblit insisted that Bitan’s appointment be brought for a full vote in the cabinet, instead of a telephone survey of the cabinet ministers, in order that the cabinet fully debate the appointment of someone against whom the police have recommended severe corruption indictments. 

“Because of the suspension in the appointment of ministers, I have decided to forgo my appointment as agriculture minister,” said Bitan, announcing his decision. 

“It is a shame that an appointment that should have been made two years ago was delayed for various excuses until we got to a point that it was emptied of all content,” he added, in apparent criticism of Netanyahu for failing to promote him sooner