Bennett: PM distracted, showing lack of leadership, blaming everyone but himself

Yamina chief compares Netanyahu unfavorably to former Israeli leaders; Lapid says Israel no longer a functioning country

Naftali Bennett visits the ultra-Orthodox city of Elad, September 6, 2020 (FLASH90)
Naftali Bennett visits the ultra-Orthodox city of Elad, September 6, 2020 (FLASH90)

Opposition leaders slammed Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Tuesday for his government’s management of the coronavirus pandemic, with one of the premier’s rivals accusing him of being distracted from the task at hand.

MK Naftali Bennett, whose national-religious Yamina party has surged in the polls amid his criticism of the government’s handling of the virus since he exited it in May, excoriated the premier for shifting blame for the situation to anyone but himself.

“We are at the height of the most severe crisis that has befallen Israel and the prime minister is saying that everyone else is to blame and that it is everyone’s fault,” Bennett said. “They are also responsible for the fact that since April we have not added a single bed in the hospitals.

“It’s just a lack of leadership,” he said. “And then he sends his messengers everywhere [to blame others].”

Last month, a Knesset committee heard that Israel has managed to increase its hospital capacity by just 19 beds since the start of the coronavirus pandemic. With hospitals overflowing across the country, Defense Minister Benny Gantz on Monday ordered the military to prepare to establish a field hospital for coronavirus patients.

Shamir Medical Center personnel at the hospital’s coronavirus ward of Shamir in Be’er Ya’akov, near Tel Aviv, August 20, 2020. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

Bennett attacked the prime minister, saying he was distracted from dealing with the pandemic.

“I do not remember any leader during wartime — not Begin, not Eshkol, not Golda dealing with other issues,” Bennett said, naming former prime ministers.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu speaks at a memorial ceremony for former premier Golda Meir at Mount Herzl cemetery in Jerusalem on November 18, 2018. (Menahem Kahana/AFP)

Netanyahu has come under fire for his management of the pandemic while he faces indictment on corruption charges, as well as for traveling to the United States for the signing of agreements with the United Arab Emirates and Bahrain at a time the country was heading into a second national lockdown.

Bennett has criticized the country’s coronavirus response ever since he ended up in the opposition following the March elections. He’d previously served under the prime minister since 2013.

He has been a thorn in Netanyahu’s right flank, and is seen by some as a possible challenger to the prime minister in future elections, along with opposition leader Yair Lapid, who said Tuesday that the actions of the government had deprived the public of their right to live in a functioning state.

Opposition leader Yair Lapid of Yesh Atid-Telem is pictured during an interview with AFP at his office in the Knesset, Jerusalem, on September 14, 2020. (Emmanuel DUNAND/AFP)

“They have taken away from us the right to live in a functioning country, with a functioning government, and a functioning prime minister. We deserve more,” Lapid said.

As well as attacks from lawmakers, Netanyahu has faced weeks of public protests against his leadership and handling of the virus crisis.

Despite initial success in tackling the pandemic, Israel has in recent weeks become one of the countries with the highest number of daily cases per capita, and has surpassed the US in recent days in the total of number of cases per capita.

Israel on Friday entered the country’s second national coronavirus lockdown, marking the first time in the world an advanced country has imposed a repeat closure to curb the pandemic.

Netanyahu’s government had tried various measures in recent months to avoid a full shutdown, such as weekend closures, but repeatedly backtracked in the face of opposition.

Earlier this month, the coalition attempted to impose localized lockdowns in places with high infection rates, only to downgrade the measure to curfews and school closures after facing major pushback from ultra-Orthodox officials, whose support the prime minister needs.

Ultra-Orthodox Jews during morning prayer in a synagogue during a nationwide three-week lockdown to curb the spread of the coronavirus, in Bnei Brak, Sept 21, 2020. (AP Photo/Oded Balilty)

The government has also faced major pushback from many small businesses, saying they won’t survive the economic pain of a new extended closure, and have little faith in government promises of eventual compensation.

The Employment Service said Tuesday over 28,000 Israelis had registered for unemployment benefits over the previous 24 hours, putting the total number of unemployed at 802,314, including 472,734 placed on unpaid leave by employers. Over 70,000 people have been laid off since Thursday, a day before the national lockdown began.

Closed down cafes and restaurants in Tel Aviv, on September 22, 2020 (Miriam Alster/Flash90)

The death toll since the start of the pandemic was at 1,285, according to Health Ministry figures on Tuesday morning, an increase of 29 in a period of 26 hours.

The number of seriously ill was at 668 with 159 on ventilators. There were 263 people in moderate condition.

Monday saw 3,858 cases added to the national case count (193,374), but with lower test numbers of 34,400. The percentage of positive tests remained very high, at 11.6%.

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