Two major networks broadcast extensive leaked recordings from Thursday night’s tumultuous cabinet meeting on the extension of the lockdown, during which Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu at one point accused Defense Minister Benny Gantz that “the blood of many Israelis” would be on his hands and Gantz claimed the premier was “throwing dust in the public’s eyes.”
The recordings aired simultaneously on Channel 12 news and Kan News on Sunday, prompting Gantz’s office to complain that Netanyahu’s associates leaked them to benefit the premier in the upcoming elections. They demanded that the entire protocol of all cabinet meetings on the coronavirus be made public.
The chaotic night saw an initial decision by a majority of ministers to extend the closure from Friday to Sunday overturned by the attorney general, who said the extension could not be passed without the support of Gantz’s bloc in the egalitarian government. The sides eventually agreed on an extension and it was passed in a second vote, but not before things became heated in the meeting room.
Many of the angry exchanges between Netanyahu and Gantz during the meeting have previously been published in the media, but the new recordings highlighted the unity government’s inability to agree on even simple steps to battle the surging COVID-19 infections, given the respective parties’ deep distrust and elections looming next month.
The recordings largely consisted of Netanyahu’s attacks against Gantz and other Blue and White party members — with the audience perhaps being potential voters, as Likud seeks to convince the public that the premier should not be blamed for the rampant infections.
“The public understands your game very well. It understands you are condemning many Israelis to serious illness and death,” Netanyahu can be heard saying in one recording. The prime minister himself has been accused by critics on various occasions of failing to take sufficient action against surging infections.
Gantz, a former IDF chief of staff, is heard retorting: “Enough of this nonsense. Don’t lecture me about responsibility for human lives. You are throwing dust in the public’s eyes.”
Netanyahu: “The lives of many Israelis will be on your hands, Benny, enough of the nonsense.”
The premier charged that Blue and White preferred to reopen the economy even if it costs lives, to boost its credentials ahead of the election: “We understand you’re adopting an oppositional stance, we understand it’s your strategy. Open, open, open, morbidity will rise, and you know exactly what the result will be. In these 50 days left until the election, I expect that you will always object to what we propose.”
Tempers flared during Thursday’s meeting, with Gantz blasting Netanyahu for delaying the session several times after it was supposed to have taken place last Monday.
The Blue and White chairman also lamented cabinet secretary Tzachi Braverman’s failure to update ministers in advance as to what would be discussed at the meeting, according to Army Radio. The prime minister retorted that Gantz was seeking to manufacture headlines and was motivated by petty politics.
“When there’s no choice, you close things down, but when you can, you should open. I believe it is now possible and necessary to open,” Gantz was quoted by Hebrew media as having told ministers. “Lockdowns have stopped being an effective work plan and solution.”
Israel’s third nationwide lockdown to curb the spread of COVID-19 was eased on Sunday at 7 a.m. after over a month, as the country continues to grapple with thousands of daily new cases and a death toll that has reached well over 5,000.
The lockdown was initially scheduled to lift partially on Friday, but a cabinet agreement late Thursday extended the closure to Sunday following the hours-long meeting and heated exchanges between Netanyahu and Gantz.
As of Sunday morning, restrictions on individual travel to within 1,000 meters of people’s homes have been lifted; nature reserves, national parks, heritage sites, and Israel Antiquities Authority sites will reopen to the public; businesses that do not cater to the public will reopen; restaurant takeout services and businesses with individual interactions, like hairdressers and cosmeticians will be allowed to operate; and vacation rentals will be allowed to cater to single families.
As the cabinet met again Sunday evening, no agreement was reached regarding the reopening of kindergartens or grades 1-3. Discussions were continuing.