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Gantz asks Bennett to release minutes of cabinet meetings on pandemic

Defense minister says move, previously rejected by Netanyahu, would boost public confidence in government’s decision making, while holding ministers accountable for their actions

Illustrative: Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu (R) holds the weekly cabinet meeting via videoconference call from the Prime Minister's Office in Jerusalem due to coronavirus regulations, March 15, 2020. (Haim Zach/GPO)
Illustrative: Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu (R) holds the weekly cabinet meeting via videoconference call from the Prime Minister's Office in Jerusalem due to coronavirus regulations, March 15, 2020. (Haim Zach/GPO)

Defense Minister Benny Gantz on Wednesday urged Prime Minister Naftali Bennett to change government regulations in order to allow for the publication of the minutes from the currently classified coronavirus cabinet meetings over the past year.

In a tweet explaining the request, Gantz said that “throughout the months of the fight against the spread of the coronavirus, public confidence in government decisions was eroded. At that time, partial publications from the discussions were repeatedly leaked to the public.”

Gantz said the disclosure of the protocols will help the public better understand the decisions taken by the ministerial body that led the government’s efforts to curb the pandemic, while also holding members of the coronavirus cabinet accountable.

The defense minister sought to have the meeting minutes released during the previous government but then-prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu fought the effort. Netanyahu’s cabinet secretary Tzachi Braverman told Gantz at the time that publishing the transcripts would deter ministers from speaking frankly at future cabinet meetings.

The Netanyahu government’s move to make coronavirus cabinet meetings confidential means that they cannot be made public for 30 years unless a decision is made to declassify them.

In addition to Gantz, the Movement for Freedom of Information is expected to reach out to Bennett in the coming days to make the same request to release the meeting transcripts.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, right, speaks with Defense Minister Benny Gantz during the weekly cabinet meeting in Jerusalem, June 7, 2020. (Menahem Kahana/Pool via AP)

Given that Bennett served in the opposition during most of the pandemic and was heavily critical of Netanyahu’s conduct, he may be more willing to oblige.

According to leaked transcripts, some of the cabinet meetings disintegrated into angry shouting matches, particularly between Netanyahu and Gantz.

In one meeting in February as they debated easing Israel’s third lockdown, the two accused each other of playing with the lives of Israelis in a bid to gain political momentum ahead of the upcoming March elections. The turmoil came minutes after the Health Ministry released figures showing that Israel’s death toll from the pandemic had passed 5,000.

Gantz “wants as much serious morbidity as possible for the elections,” Netanyahu charged at the time, according to the Ynet news site. “You are condemning many Israelis to a terrible death.”

Gantz shot back: “Don’t come with your stories and don’t try and teach me about the value of life.”

After the vote, Netanyahu slammed the Blue and White ministers.

“You are bringing death to the people,” Ynet quoted Netanyahu as saying. “This is a clear political exercise of yours. The responsibility for the lives of the people is yours.”

Ultimately, most restrictions began to be lifted and Israel’s virus numbers plummeted as the vaccination campaign took effect.

Israel’s mass vaccination drive, which has given both shots to well over half the population, along with lockdown measures, brought down the number of new daily cases (based on a weekly average), from 8,600 at the peak of the health crisis to just 28 on Tuesday.

At the height of the pandemic, there were 88,000 active cases in the country and 1,228 serious cases; as of Wednesday, there were 231 active infections and 25 people in serious condition.

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