Bitan: Government should 'temper' judicial overhaul

Likud MK Bitan says Netanyahu will ‘pay a price’ if Amsalem left without role

Former loyalist Amsalem failed to get ministerial portfolio after falling out with prime minister; Bitan also says public broadcaster should be ‘improved,’ not shut down

Likud party members David Amsalem (right) and David Bitan arrive for a Likud faction meeting at the Knesset in Jerusalem on December 28, 2022. (Olivier Fitoussi/Flash90)
Likud party members David Amsalem (right) and David Bitan arrive for a Likud faction meeting at the Knesset in Jerusalem on December 28, 2022. (Olivier Fitoussi/Flash90)

Likud MK David Bitan on Wednesday warned that if Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu does not appoint lawmaker David Amsalem, Bitan’s ally, to a ministerial position, he would “pay a price.”

Amsalem was the most senior Likud MK who failed to receive a ministerial position in the new government. Once a devout Netanyahu supporter, the two have had a falling out and clashed several times over the past year.

“There are various suggestions, but at the moment there’s nothing,” Bitan told Army Radio, about efforts to find a role for Amsalem that would end the dispute.

“If Amsalem doesn’t receive anything, Netanyahu will pay a price,” he added, without going into detail.

Known as a firebrand with a brash style, Amsalem was one of the loudest voices questioning the motivation behind the corruption charges faced by the Likud leader. In the new government, he demanded the job of either justice minister or Knesset speaker and apparently refused other positions after being denied both.

Netanyahu was forced to give several Likud lawmakers the cold shoulder after handing out most of the top government positions to his coalition partners. While some received ministerial posts, others were given lesser positions or forced to share jobs in a rotation.

Likud MK David Bitan, chair of the Knesset Economic Committee (right) and Communications Minister Shlomo Karhi at a meeting at the Knesset, Jerusalem, on January 30, 2023. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

The Likud chief was also seen as rewarding those who were most loyal to him over the past few years and seeking to weaken those who could challenge his authority in the party.

Bitan, also once one of Netanyahu’s fiercest defenders, has sparred with his party head more recently, notably panning his handling of coalition negotiations with Likud’s far-right and Haredi partners. He currently serves as head of the Knesset Economic Committee.

The lawmaker was also asked about his party’s longstanding threats to close down the Kan public broadcaster, which were revived recently in remarks by Communications Minister Shlomo Karhi.

Bitan said “there are a lot of things that need to be improved in the broadcaster,” but that he was against closing it. For example, Kan should give more airtime to the “other side,” he posited, accusing it of not providing enough of a platform to right-wing voices.

The public broadcaster, which launched in 2017 after a drawn-out legal process to replace its predecessor, the Israel Broadcasting Authority, has long been a target of Likud party members, who view it as hostile to their agenda.

An attempt by Netanyahu to split Kan into separate news and entertainment divisions was agreed upon in 2018, only to be abandoned once Israel won the 2018 Eurovision contest, since maintaining an independent public broadcaster was a requirement for hosting the following year.

Bitan also told Army Radio that the coalition needs to “temper the reforms” to the judiciary put forward by Justice Minister Yariv Levin, particularly with regard to its effect on human rights, and said there was room to cooperate with the opposition on the matter.

The legislation proposed by the coalition would give the government complete control over the appointment of judges, severely restrict the High Court’s power of judicial review over legislation, allow the Knesset to override a High Court decision to strike down legislation, make legislation immune from judicial review at the beginning of the legislative process, prevent the High Court from reviewing Basic Laws, and prevent the court from using the principle of reasonableness to assess administrative decisions by the government and other state agencies.

President Isaac Herzog and others have also urged the government to negotiate over the contours of the judicial overhaul plan.

Most Popular
read more: