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Cabinet expands state-subsidized health benefits, okays ministry chiefs

Government okays subsidized eyeglasses for children, advanced cancer treatments, diabetes meds; Netanyahu says international bond sale shows ‘the world actually believes in Israel’

Tobias (Toby) Siegal is a breaking news editor and contributor to The Times of Israel.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu leads the weekly cabinet meeting at the Prime Minister's Office in Jerusalem, January 22, 2022. (Kobi Gideon/GPO)
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu leads the weekly cabinet meeting at the Prime Minister's Office in Jerusalem, January 22, 2022. (Kobi Gideon/GPO)

The government has okayed over 120 new drugs and treatments that will be subsidized as part of country’s healthcare “basket,” Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu announced during Sunday’s cabinet meeting as ministers also approved the appointment of several ministry directors general.

While largely focused on the dismissal of Shas leader Aryeh Deri following last week’s High Court ruling barring him from serving as minister, Netanyahu opened the meeting by saying: “Above all, the most important thing is health, so we will start with health.”

Netanyahu said the added services will help over 350,000 Israelis, which he hailed as “major news.”

He said the new services will include subsidized eyeglasses for children, advanced cancer treatments, diabetes medications, an immunization against herpes zoster (shingles) for those who are at risk or over 65, “and many more.”

Subsidizing the new drugs and treatments will cost around NIS 650 million ($190 million), Netanyahu told cabinet ministers.

He thanked Deri for advancing the changes during his brief tenure as health minister, as well as the healthcare “basket” committee and the Health Ministry for their assistance.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu reads a letter to Shas chair Aryeh Deri, informing Deri that he most remove him from ministerial office, at the weekly cabinet meeting in Jerusalem, January 22, 2023. (Kobi Gideon/GPO)

“From health to security,” Netanyahu continued, updating the cabinet on his meeting last week with US National Security Adviser Jake Sullivan.

Netanyahu said the two discussed regional security and ways to cooperate against the Iranian threat, which he described as being a top agenda item for both countries.

“I was impressed that there is a genuine and mutual desire to reach understandings on this issue,” Netanyahu said, “which is of decisive importance to the security of the state. Discussions on the issue will be held between Jerusalem and Washington in the coming weeks.”

Moving on to the economy, Netanyahu said Israel had raised two billion dollars by selling government bonds to international institutional investors, with demand reaching over $10 billion.

“This completely contravenes the campaign of fear that the media is leading against the government,” he said, referring to warnings that a contentious judicial overhaul and other moves being pushed by the government will harm the economy.

“The world actually believes in the State of Israel and in the Israeli economy,” Netanyahu continued. “It believes in the leadership of the State of Israel and the proof is the huge demand for bonds and the low interest rate that the State of Israel is paying for them.”

The cabinet also extended until the end of April the classification of some communities and areas as being of national priority, a move that is intended to strengthen outlying areas and encourage migration to the periphery.

Later, the cabinet approved the appointment of Eyal Zamir, a former deputy chief of the military, as director general of the Defense Ministry. The retired major general was considered twice to lead the Israel Defense Forces, in 2018 and 2022. Ultimately, however, the front-running candidates were selected instead.

Ronen Levi was approved as director general of the Foreign Ministry. Levi filled various positions in the security establishment over the years, including senior roles in the Shin Bet and in the National Security Council (NSC).

Meanwhile, before being reluctantly fired by Netanyahu, Deri amended a regulation to enable the Clalit Health Service to appoint Eli Cohen as its director.

Cohen, not to be confused with Foreign Minister Eli Cohen, has been serving as acting director while his formal appointment was held up for months because his wife also holds a senior position at Clalit.

Existing regulations required Cohen’s wife to leave her position for him to be appointed director of the organization, which Clalit asked Deri to amend, paving the way for his appointment on Sunday.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu (left) with then outgoing military secretary to the prime minister, Major General Eyal Zamir, at the Prime Minister’s Office in Jerusalem, on September 8, 2015. (Haim Zach / GPO)

Also in Sunday’s cabinet meeting, Public Security Minister Itamar Ben Gvir issued a demand for the destruction of what he said were six illegal structures built by Palestinians over the last month in West Bank areas fully controlled by Israel, as well as the illegal Khan al-Ahmar Bedouin encampment.

Ben Gvir’s demand came after the evacuation and destruction of an illegal Jewish settlement outpost in the northern West Bank on Friday, which angered the ultra-nationalist parties in the coalition and led to a public showdown between Defense Minister Yoav Gallant and Religious Zionism leader Bezalel Smotrich.

Jeremy Sharon and Stuart Winer contributed to this report. 

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