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Ahead of cabinet appointment, Knesset’s vaccine holdout announces inoculation

In statement 2 days before he becomes minister, Eli Avidar’s office says he finally got the shot because of family considerations and ‘responsibility as a public figure’

Yisrael Beytenu MK Eli Avidar in the Knesset on April 29, 2019. (Noam Revkin Fenton/Flash90)
Yisrael Beytenu MK Eli Avidar in the Knesset on April 29, 2019. (Noam Revkin Fenton/Flash90)

The Knesset’s lone known vaccine holdout announced Friday that he had received the coronavirus shot, two days before the government is slated to approve his appointment as a minister.

A spokesman for maverick Yisrael Beytenu MK Eli Avidar issued a statement revealing that the lawmaker was vaccinated at the beginning of the month “due to private family reasons and out of his responsibility as a public figure.”

For months, Avidar had refused to get vaccinated, publicly claiming that it was unnecessary since he wasn’t part of an at-risk group. He also spoke out against “pressuring” citizens to inoculate, insisting that those who are uncomfortable with the vaccine should not be penalized for avoiding it.

Avidar’s spokesman said Friday that the MK regularly underwent PCR tests to ensure that he was not a carrier of the virus and unknowingly spreading it to others.

“MK Avidar does not oppose vaccines, and his entire family has been vaccinated,” the statement added. “At the same time, Avidar has previously expressed his opinion that he is attentive to and appreciates each person’s personal freedom to choose [how to protect] their own body.”

Hebrew media reported that Avidar’s wife is slated to begin a post-doctorate program abroad next year and the lawmaker decided to get vaccinated so that he could more easily travel to visit her.

Prime Minister Naftali Bennett (R) and Yisrael Beytenu MK Eli Avidar attend a plenum session in the Knesset, on July 12, 2021. (Olivier Fitoussi/Flash90)

Before Avidar’s vaccination was publicized, his stance on the matter placed the government in an awkward position, with Prime Minister Naftali Bennett launching a campaign Thursday against those who don’t vaccinate, accusing them of endangering the rest of the country.

The premier warned that vaccine holdouts could cause the government to impose a fourth national lockdown and warned that they would be subject to more stringent restrictions than their vaccinated peers.

But Bennett has been wary of angering Avidar, as his coalition’s narrow majority in the Knesset needs every vote to pass a budget as well as other key legislation.

Avidar has served in Avigdor Liberman’s Yisrael Beytenu party since 2019, but ties between the two soured last month when the former was not given a ministerial post.

Avidar subsequently declared himself an “independent lawmaker,” removed the Yisrael Beytenu logo from his Facebook page this week and reportedly threatened to vote against the coalition’s budget proposal. If it fails to pass a budget by early November, the government will automatically collapse.

Yisrael Beytenu members Alex Kushnir (left), Eli Avidar (center) and party leader Avigdor Liberman at an Israel Independence Day picnic, May 10, 2019 (Facebook)

The MK maintains that he supports the new government and that he’d like to see it survive, but has already come out against coalition legislation.

Following negotiations between Avidar and Bennett’s office, a compromise was reached by which Avidar will be named minister in the Prime Minister’s Office in charge of strategic affairs. He will later be appointed intelligence minister, once Elazar Stern, who is currently in the post, becomes head of the Jewish Agency for Israel. Liberman, who is furious with Avidar for breaking from the party, was said to have signed off on the offer.

Avidar’s appointment — along with that of Meretz MK Yair Golan, who will become deputy economy minister — is at the top of the cabinet’s agenda for its weekly Sunday meeting.

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