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Bennett assails Netanyahu over virus response: ‘Nation’s lost its faith in you’

Ascendant Yamina leader accuses PM of lying to Israeli public over pandemic management, pummels him for ‘taking pride’ in second lockdown

Yamina leader Naftali Bennett speaks during a Knesset plenary session at the Knesset, August 24, 2020. (Oren Ben Hakoon/ POOL)
Yamina leader Naftali Bennett speaks during a Knesset plenary session at the Knesset, August 24, 2020. (Oren Ben Hakoon/ POOL)

Yamina leader Naftali Bennett tore into Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu Monday after the premier touted the government’s imposition of a nationwide coronavirus lockdown to curb sky-high infection rates.

“Mr. Prime Minister, you know why there is such a loss of the public’s trust in the government? Because you don’t tell the truth. A lockdown isn’t an image of victory. A lockdown is an image of a failure. A terrible failure,” Bennett said during a speech from the Knesset rostrum during the session opening the Knesset’s winter session.

During his own address at the event, Netanyahu had praised the decision to impose a second lockdown and said that while Israel was the first country in the world to do so, others were now following in its footsteps.

“Today, most of the public sees that the decision I led to impose a closure, that decision was the right one. Without it, we would be stepping straight into the abyss,” the prime minister claimed. “This is exactly what happened in the first wave. We were among the first to close the borders and impose a closure, and others followed us.”

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu speaks in the Knesset plenum, October 12, 2020. (Yaniv Nadav/Knesset spokesperson’s office)

Accusing Netanyahu of not being honest with the Israeli public, Bennett said, “States that conduct themselves badly reach lockdowns. Whoever says they are all reaching a lockdown is lying.

“The nation lost its faith in you because you don’t believe in the nation. Whoever believes in the nation doesn’t use a lockdown and take pride in it,” Bennett added.

With Bennett’s right-wing opposition party seeing a massive bump in its polling numbers, Yamina’s Ayelet Shaked called last week for elections to be held after Israel overcomes the current wave of infections, touting Bennett as a replacement for Netanyahu.

“After this wave of illness, we have to go to the polls within two or three months,” Shaked told Channel 12 in an interview.

MK Ayelet Shaked at the Knesset Law, Constitution and Justice Committee, October 11, 2020. (Knesset Channel)

“The current government is not functioning and Yamina is a leadership alternative to Likud,” she said. “Bennett would be an excellent prime minister.”

Shaked’s comments came a day after a television opinion poll indicated that Yamina is closing the gap on the ruling Likud party led by Netanyahu.

If elections were held, Likud would pick up 26 seats in the 120-seat Knesset, while Naftali Bennett’s Yamina would win 23, the Channel 12 survey found. In March’s elections, Likud won 36 seats, and Yamina just six.

No elections are currently set to take place, but speculation is rampant that an early vote will be called sometime in the next several months, as bad blood between Netanyahu and his Blue and White partner Defense Minister Benny Gantz continues to brew, in the shadow of a budget deadline at the end of the year that could automatically fell the government.

The Channel 12 survey found that a plurality of respondents, 49 percent, say the government should be dissolved and early elections — which would be the fourth national vote since April 2019 — should be called. Just 30% said the government should continue operating, and 21% said they don’t know. Broken down by political leanings, 58% of center-left voters, and 45% of right-wing voters, said elections should be called as soon as possible.

Yamina has been steadily making gains as a protest movement against Netanyahu’s corruption charges has gained steam and as the country has floundered in efforts to contain the coronavirus pandemic.

On Monday evening, Israel passed the bleak milestone of 2,000 deaths due to the coronavirus, the Health Ministry announced, with more than 1,000 people dying in a little over a month, as the toll accelerated in the second wave of the pandemic.

A medical worker in the coronavirus unit at Ichilov Hospital in Tel Aviv on July 28, 2020. (Yossi Aloni/Flash90)

The grim landmark was reached even as contagion appeared to ebb, with transmission rates declining after an ongoing month-long nationwide lockdown.

Israel recorded its first COVID-19 death on March 21 — 88-year-old Holocaust survivor Aryeh Even — and reached 500 deaths on July 30. In just over a month from that date, the country recorded 500 more, reaching the 1,000 death milestone on September 5. Barely a month later, on October 12, it has doubled.

As of Monday evening, 2,016 Israelis had died of the disease, of 293,553 confirmed carriers of the virus, the Health Ministry said. Of 52,892 active cases of COVID-19, 827 were in serious condition, including 227 on ventilators. There were 287 patients in moderate condition, with the rest displaying mild or no symptoms.

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