Environmental Protection Minister Gila Gamliel, who has been under fire in recent weeks for her violation of the High Holiday coronavirus lockdown amid other alleged scandals, decried what she called “unjustified criticism” of her behavior from people who she said are trying to thwart the reforms her ministry is enacting.
In an interview with Channel 13 news, Gamliel called accusations against her a smear campaign by her political enemies and claimed that “people whose toes I was stepping on tried everything they could to bring about my dismissal as environmental protection minister.”
The Likud minister has been under fire since she announced she contracted coronavirus and reports emerged that she traveled to Tiberias for Yom Kippur and prayed indoors at a synagogue. Reports initially indicated that she lied to contact tracers, telling them that she was at a synagogue in Tel Aviv — seemingly supported by photos of her leaked epidemiological investigation. Reports also surfaced that Gamliel infected three of her staff members after the breach.
However, after an initial police investigation, Attorney General Avichai Mandelblit on Monday announced that there would not be a criminal probe into Gamliel after an inquiry found that she had in fact told contact tracers she was in Tiberias, but the Health Ministry’s computer system only listed Tel Aviv, due to a glitch in its system.
On Thursday, the Israel Defense Forces announced an investigation into suspicions that military personnel hacked the database of epidemiological investigations and leaked Gamliel’s files.
In her Wednesday night interview, Gamliel asserted that she did not think driving to Tiberias was an infraction of the lockdown because she went to a home that she often used on the weekends and on holidays. Maintaining that she “did not break the regulations or the law,” she apologized for what she called “incorrect judgment” and expressed regret that she might have violated the public’s trust.
Bursting into tears when discussing the criticism she has attracted, Gamliel said she had never faced such vitriol in her 20 years of public office. “They tried to label me in the worst ways possible. Nobody thought in the media ‘maybe let’s wait until she recovers [from coronvirus]?'”
Allegations against Gamliel’s inappropriate behavior have continued to surface, with a Thursday report in the Yedioth Ahronoth daily alleging that she rarely engages in official business, that she enlisted public servants to help her brother’s political career, and that she packed her daily planner, available to the public under freedom of information laws, with fictitious meetings.
According to Yedioth, there were multiple instances in which her ostensible meetings, as written in her planner, did not match the diaries of the officials with whom she was supposedly meeting.
In response to this latest report, which was based on anonymous sources, Gamliel’s office said that her ministry had enacted environmental reforms for the benefit of the general public that were provoking the ire of “capitalists and narrow-minded stakeholders, who have become accustomed to getting rich at the public’s expense,” and want nothing more than to “maintain the status quo.”
Her office said she had “managed to shut down four high-pollution power plants, is working to remove the pollution-causing factories from the Haifa Bay, extended the cash-back law to 1.5-liter plastic bottles — all in the face of tycoons who will resort to any means to ruin her good name.”
Earlier this month, Gamliel was accused in a TV probe of “mixing the private and the public” in terms of her use of taxpayers’ money and official resources over recent years.
Gamliel upgraded to one of New York’s most expensive hotels at an extra cost to the public purse of thousands of dollars, claiming an allergic reaction to the hotel where she was supposed to stay; was accompanied by five members of her family on a six-day working visit to Austria in which she did relatively little official work; and has used her government car and driver to deliver her kids to school, Channel 12 reported.
In response, Gamliel said it was unfortunate that the TV station had chosen to attack her with old allegations when she was still battling her COVID-19 infection, and denied any wrongdoing.
Throughout the coronavirus crisis, there has been a slew of reports of lockdown violations by senior officials and their families, including the head of the Shin Bet, the Israel Defense Forces chief of staff, two senior police officers, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, and President Reuven Rivlin.