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Bennett mocks Netanyahu for plea deal talks after ex-PM criticizes COVID policy

As opposition head blasts gov’t decision to cancel quarantine for children exposed at school, PM snipes: ‘Nice to see he stepped away from personal affairs to spread hysteria’

Opposition head Benjamin Netanyahu (left) and Prime Minister Naftali Bennett. (Menahem Kahana/AFP; Yonatan Sindel/ Flash90)
Opposition head Benjamin Netanyahu (left) and Prime Minister Naftali Bennett. (Menahem Kahana/AFP; Yonatan Sindel/ Flash90)

Prime Minister Naftali Bennett on Tuesday dismissed criticism by opposition leader Benjamin Netanyahu of his government’s COVID policies, using the opportunity to go after the former premier who’s been recently immersed in plea bargain negotiations to bring an end to his criminal trial.

Netanyahu on Tuesday evening posted a video on his social media accounts in which he blasted the government for its decision to cancel, starting Thursday, the quarantine requirement for children exposed to COVID carriers, and claimed Bennett and Foreign Minister Yair Lapid “aren’t doing anything” to stop rampant infections and rising death rates.

“Despite evidence from the United States on severe symptoms harming children who contracted Omicron, the government decided that in two days, we will switch to a policy of mass infection of all Israeli children,” Netanyahu said. “Without quarantine, without enforcement, without orderly tests — everyone will get infected.”

He added that in addition to long-term symptoms that some will experience, many children will infect adults, calling it “a real danger.”

Channel 12 reported Tuesday evening though that Health Ministry officials are now discussing reversing the decision to scrap quarantine for children, which was part of a bid to keep children in school amid the Omicron variant wave.

Health officials may halt the move due to concerns over pediatric inflammatory multisystem syndrome (PIMS) cases in children who recover from the virus, Channel 12 said, though Bennett was still said to be backing it.

High school students take a mathematics exam in a school in Yehud, January 20, 2022. (Yossi Zeliger/Flash90)

Demonstrating the extent to which the former prime minister still drives the news cycle, Bennett issued a response statement shortly thereafter, sniping that “it’s nice to see Netanyahu has stepped away from his personal affairs and returned to spreading hysteria and chaos as usual.”

Netanyahu had on Monday posted a video in which he announced that he would continue leading the Likud party and had not agreed to a moral turpitude clause in recent plea deal talks that would have required he exit politics for seven years. The video was filmed before Monday but Netanyahu only ordered its release after Attorney General Avichai Mandelblit’s office told the ex-PM’s lawyers that the on-off plea negotiations could not be completed before Mandeblit retires at the end of the month, according to Channel 13.

Bennett went on in his statement to say that after three lockdowns, one million Israelis unemployed and schools forced to operate almost entirely online during Netanyahu’s tenure as premier, “the citizens of Israel are telling him, thanks but no thanks.”

Health Minister Nitzan Horowitz piled on, tweeting: “The [criminal] defendant who reopened IKEA stores before schools, the champion of lockdowns and firings, is lecturing us.”

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