Coalition whip Zohar: Government must be disbanded ‘as soon as possible’

Likud lawmaker accuses Blue and White of undermining Netanyahu’s response to the pandemic, amid fight over limiting anti-Netanyahu protests

Likud MK Miki Zohar reacts during an Arrangements Committee meeting at the Knesset in Jerusalem, January 13, 2020. (Hadas Parush/Flash90)
Likud MK Miki Zohar reacts during an Arrangements Committee meeting at the Knesset in Jerusalem, January 13, 2020. (Hadas Parush/Flash90)

Likud MK Miki Zohar, the coalition chairman, on Saturday night said the unity government with Blue and White must disband “as soon as possible,” while blaming its leader Benny Gantz for the second wave of the coronavirus and accusing him of undermining Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s pandemic response.

“In the first wave, when Netanyahu worked without their [Blue and White’s] distractions, we won big [against coronavirus]; now they are just interfering with us in order to bring us down with them,” Zohar said on Twitter.

The government must be dissolved “as soon as possible,” added Zohar.

Netanyahu admitted Saturday that his government had made mistakes in emerging from Israel’s first national lockdown earlier this year, as the Health Ministry said 8,221 new coronavirus cases were diagnosed on Friday — a new single-day record.

Zohar’s comments come amid weeks of coalition infighting between Netanyahu and his Blue and White partner Gantz, most recently over whether the pandemic should force the weekly protests against the premier’s corruption cases and handling of the pandemic to be restricted.

The two leaders have gone head to head over the budget and numerous other issues since their unity government was formed after three consecutive inconclusive elections. Netanyahu is widely believed to be seeking new elections to avoid having to hand over the reins to Gantz next year under their premiership rotation agreement.

Blue and White ministers have defended the weekly protests against Netanyahu, while the prime minister has condemned them as a danger to public health and dismissed claims he was seeking to ban the rallies for political reasons as “absurd.”

Gantz’s centrist party, along with Attorney General Avichai Mandelblit, on Friday also pushed back against reported plans by Likud to utilize emergency regulations to crack down on the anti-government rallies — a move that would bypass the Knesset and could be open-ended.

Netanyahu and his allies have insisted the mass rallies are a dangerous infection vector, though there has been no data to support this.

Liberman: Gantz, Netanyahu must apologize to Israelis

Also Saturday, the leader of the opposition right-wing secular Yisrael Beytenu party, Avigdor Liberman, took to social media to urge coalition leaders to ask the Israeli public for forgiveness before the High Holiday of Yom Kippur.

Yisrael Beytenu chair Avigdor Liberman castigates the government’s handling of the COVID-19 crisis, at the opening of his weekly faction meeting in the Knesset, September 7, 2020. (Yisrael Beytenu)

He began with Gantz and referenced his reneging on his promise to not join a unity government with Netanyahu: “You need to ask forgiveness from ‘only’ 1.3 million Israeli citizens that you lied to when you said, ‘I will not sit on a government with Bibi [Netanyahu],'” said Liberman.

From there, Liberman turned his ire toward the leaders of the ultra-Orthodox parties and told them to ask forgiveness from their constituents for making them “weak by preventing [them] from being educated and making a decent living, and ask forgiveness from the rest of the Israeli citizens who in their place do more reserve duty and pay more taxes.”

Liberman closed with a call for Netanyahu to ask forgiveness from the Israeli public for what he characterized as the financial fallout in the aftermath of the mismanagement of the coronavirus crisis, and to apologize to residents of the south for his defense policy vis-à-vis Hamas.

Friday saw tensions between Liberman’s Yisrael Beytenu and Netanyahu’s Likud escalate in a number of stormy exchanges between lawmakers, including name-calling between Likud’s Zohar and opposition MK Eli Avidar of Yisrael Beytenu over curbing protests during the national lockdown.

“I have argued in recent days that there are those who want these demonstrations to continue because they want there to be morbidity,” Zohar said.

“You are mentally ill!” responded Avidar.

“You’re one of the most idiotic people I’ve seen,” said Zohar.

Thousands of people took part in protests against Netanyahu throughout the country Saturday, as well as online, with the largest events held in Jerusalem, Tel Aviv, and Caesarea.

Israeli protesters gather during a demonstration amid a second lockdown in front of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s residence in Jerusalem, on September 26, 2020. (EMMANUEL DUNAND / AFP)

The protests were held in spite of the national coronavirus lockdown, but were in accordance with its stipulations after lawmakers on Friday failed to pass legislation that would severely restrict both demonstrations and public worship.

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