Only several weeks ago, David Bitan was still toying with the idea of receiving a promotion and serving as minister (Netanyahu had already given him his word), but on Wednesday he briefly announced his decision to give up the position of coalition chairman, which had turned him into the star of Israel’s 20th Knesset.
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“The current situation
makes it difficult for me to do my job, and I do not want to impede the work of the coalition,” Bitan said as he explained why he had decided to step down.
It’s strange, however, that he didn’t urge the prime minister follow in his footsteps. After all, this is the same Bitan who has been explaining to everyone in the past year why Netanyahu can keep serving as prime minister under police investigations. It’s the same Bitan who passionately defended the custom-made equation that Netanyahu has no problem running the state’s affairs, even under an investigation and even under recommendations for an indictment?
So why is Bitan unable to do same?
If Netanyahu can remain in office despite being up to his neck in accusations and investigations, how is it possible that his coalition chairman—his own political flesh and blood—can’t keep his position? What applies to Netanyahu apparently doesn’t apply to Bitan.
Knesset Member Bitan became the darling of both right-wing and left-wing lawmakers, as well as most of the journalists covering him. He is blatant, sharp, controversial, belligerent, but there is something real about him.
“I say what I think,” he vouched for himself. That’s probably the simple truth. Bitan knows he can’t keep serving in the demanding position of coalition chairman with a heavy, grey cloud of suspicion hovering above him, which is why he stepped down and moved aside.
The Likud leadership, the ministers and MKs, remained confused. Only several years ago, they had fervently demanded the resignation of a different prime minister who was under investigation: Ehud Olmert.
Netanyahu was the first person to call on Olmert to resign, before anyone even dreamed of police recommendations. He was joined by many. “Have mercy on Israel’s citizens and free them of Olmert’s presence in the prime minister’s bureau,” Gilad Erdan said at the time. “The prime minister cannot remain in office. The government is up to its neck in corruption investigations,” Gideon Sa’ar argued.
Politics sometimes turns into the art of the impossible. In the political reality Netanyahu has imposed on them, many of the ministers and senior Likud members, who demanded Olmert’s resignation about a decade ago, are being enlisted today to explain why Netanyahu can keep sitting in the same chair.