Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu reportedly told Likud MK David Amsalem on Wednesday that he was being appointed as the next coalition chairman because “there is reward for loyalty.”
Netanyahu summoned Amsalem for a meeting in his office to notify him of the promotion hours after David Bitan (Likud) announced he would leave the powerful parliamentary role — but retain his Knesset seat — as he grapples with a wide-ranging police investigation into suspected bribery, fraud, money laundering and breach of trust.
Netanyahu told Amsalem that loyalty was the reason he beat out several other contenders for the job, the Walla news site reported from the closed-door meeting.
Amsalem has been one of Netanyahu’s staunchest supporters in the Knesset, including spearheading a bill that would have given the prime minister immunity from investigation and another that would bar police from giving recommendations to prosecutors on indictments.
Amid a political outcry, the so-called police recommendations bill was ultimately revised to exclude any open cases, including the investigations into the prime minister and Bitan. The proposed legislation is up for its final plenary votes on Monday to pass it into law.
The immunity law, meanwhile, was shelved.
Bitan, another outspoken defender Netanyahu, is suspected of having taken bribes from organized crime figures in Rishon Lezion after he became deputy mayor of the city in 2005, of allegedly rigging a municipal construction tender in favor of the son of an acquaintance in exchange for money, and other alleged offenses.
The importance of loyalty in the Netanyahu-led Likud has been a point of criticism by some members of the party in the past. In August, MK Benny Begin addressed the issue when asked to explain his absence from a pair of faction rallies.
“I recently heard that among the Likud values there is a new value called ‘loyalty to the leader.’ I hear this from the Likud leadership. I was not aware of such a value… I think it is a very grave development, and utterly ridiculous nonsense,” Begin, the son of Likud prime minister Menachem Begin, told Army Radio.
At both rallies, Netanyahu made seething attacks against the press, accusing it of playing up a pair of corruption investigations against him in an effort to end his premiership.
Netanyahu is being investigated in a pair of corruption cases, known as Case 1000 and Case 2000. Since police indicated several months ago that they were leaning toward recommending an indictment, he has been lashing out at the media with increasing frequency and ferocity.
In Case 1000, Netanyahu and his wife Sara are suspected of receiving illicit gifts from billionaire benefactors, most notably hundreds of thousands of shekels’ worth of cigars and champagne from the Israeli-born Hollywood producer Arnon Milchan.
Case 2000 involves a suspected illicit quid pro quo deal between Netanyahu and Yedioth Ahronoth newspaper publisher Arnon “Noni” Mozes that would have seen the prime minister hobble a rival daily, the Sheldon Adelson-backed Israel Hayom, in return for more favorable coverage from Yedioth.
Netanyahu has denied wrongdoing in all instances.