Despite Prime Minister Naftali Bennett’s recent call for Israelis to avoid traveling abroad due to COVID-19 fears, his office announced Wednesday that his wife and children are going on vacation overseas.
The premier later attempted to explain, arguing that he no longer recommends against international travel due to the details learned over the past few days about the Omicron variant of the coronavirus.
According to the Prime Minister’s Office, the family initially planned to travel with the kids to a different location, but switched destinations after the original destination was marked as “red” and barred for travel for Israelis.
All the nations currently listed as “red” are in Africa, where Israel has imposed travel restrictions amid concerns over the new Omicron variant first reported by South Africa. Hebrew media reports said Gilat Bennett and the kids had intended to fly to Mauritius.
However, a statement from Bennett’s office said that “after the COVID cabinet decision to leave the skies open for the travel of Israelis,” the family will be heading abroad and “observing all guidelines and rules” related to COVID-19.
The trip comes as Israel observes the Hanukkah holiday, when most children have time off from school.
Bennett’s office did not specify where his family will now be traveling.
Bennett’s recent remark that he would tell Israelis to refrain from visiting overseas had come as new travel restrictions took effect, as part of several COVID-related measures that the government approved to block Omicron from spreading in the country.
“If someone asked me, at the moment I wouldn’t recommend flying abroad right now amid a level of uncertainty like this,” Bennett said during a press conference on Friday, “that’s the truth.”
He also said: “Right now, we have to show particular responsibility — we as a government and you as citizens. To stand together, to take responsibility for each other, to be careful.”
In a Knesset speech last year, Bennett declared, “We don’t only have to run a state. We have to set a personal example.”
Several lawmakers in former prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s opposition Likud party criticized Bennett after the announcement of the trip, which came days after the prime minister said he would recommend Israelis avoid flying abroad for non-essential travel because of Omicron.
“That’s how it is when the political lies become the norm and personal example is publicly trampled. Simply impertinent,” Likud MK Israel Katz tweeted.
Bennett later pushed back against the criticism.
“I understand the criticism, but since Friday we’ve learned a lot more about the variant and in which countries it’s spreading, and the cabinet made decisions about which countries it’s permitted to travel to and under which conditions,” the prime minister wrote on Facebook.
He said his family chose a new destination after learning of the new travel restrictions.
“They are all going in accordance with the restrictions and, of course, will be in quarantine as is required,” he said.
He also said he did not believe there were current grounds for “hermetically” sealing Israel’s borders to air travel.
Along with barring travel to numerous African countries, the government has also banned foreigners from entering Israel and required those returning from abroad spend at least three days in quarantine.
The travel restrictions will remain in place until at least December 7.
Bennett has defended the new measures, which include the controversial use of phone tracking to locate suspected Omicron infections, citing the uncertainty around the new variant.
Israel has so far confirmed four Omicron cases, while several dozen others are suspected of having been infected with the new variant.