Likud MK David Bitan rejects appointment as agriculture minister

Bitan was appointed by Netanyahu on Sunday despite his impending indictment for bribery, money laundering, fraud, breach of trust and tax offenses.

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 Hotovely (Likud) as Diaspora affairs minister, Deputy Finance Minister Yitzhak Cohen (Shas) as housing and construction minister and Yifat Shasha-Biton (Likud) as welfare minister were all frozen.
“As opposed to a government that enjoys the trust of the Knesset, which grants it clear freedom of action in everything regarding the appointment of a 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 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 he was indicted, a development that required him to resign from his other ministerial positions.
But following the High Court criticism of the appointments, it was decided to push them off indefinitely.
Bitan’s appointment was especially controversial since the police recommended in March 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, and not a telephone survey of the cabinet ministers, for the cabinet to 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.
“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.