Gantz: Likud spreading false reports about coronavirus to hurt Blue and White

Centrist party accuses Netanyahu of planning to ‘disrupt election day’ by disseminating misinformation on the virus; Likud: There’ll be a vaccine before Gantz forms a government

Jacob Magid is The Times of Israel's US bureau chief

Blue and White party leader Benny Gantz gives a statement to the press in Ramat Gan on March 1, 2020. (Menahem Kahana/AFP)
Blue and White party leader Benny Gantz gives a statement to the press in Ramat Gan on March 1, 2020. (Menahem Kahana/AFP)

Blue and White chairman Benny Gantz accused Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s Likud party on Sunday of spreading fake reports about the coronavirus to suppress turnout on election day among supporters of his centrist alliance.

“It doesn’t bother the Likud propagandists to promote with all [their] strength the message that there’s the coronavirus in Givatayim. Did you ask yourselves why in fact Givatayim? Because it’s a stronghold of Blue and White,” Gantz wrote on Twitter.

“This is exactly what Netanyahu intends to do tomorrow,” the Blue and White leader continued. “He intends to disrupt election day, spread fake news in every area identified with Blue and White.”

Gantz was referring to news reports that parts of a mall in the Tel Aviv suburb were closed due to suspicions that a shopper was infected with the virus. In the previous elections in September, 50.32 percent of votes cast in Givatayim went to Blue and White, while 17.32% went to Likud.

The Health Ministry said the man, who had returned to Israel from the US by way of Italy, reported feeling unwell and was examined by medical personnel.

“There’s no hindrance to go to the mall in Givatayim and to continue [one’s] daily routine,” the ministry said in a statement. “The Health Ministry doesn’t put out statements on suspected [carriers of the virus] or those who were examined but only about verified cases.”

Gantz visited the mall after the reports and tweeted out a photo of himself there.

Responding to the accusation, the Likud party issued a statement asserting that “Gantz is talking nonsense.”

“A vaccine for the coronavirus will be found before [Gantz] finds a way to form a government without [Joint List MK] Ahmad Tibi.” Likud wrote on its Twitter account.

Speaking at a Saturday campaign event, Gantz warned  that “there are those that will try to disrupt election day.”

“They did it in the past and they will try again,” he said. “Netanyahu and his friends have no boundaries.”

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu visits
the Magen David Adom’s coronavirus operations center in Jerusalem, February 27, 2020. (Amos Ben Gershom/GPO)

Also on Sunday, the Blue and White party petitioned the Central Elections Committee to order news channels to broadcast Netnayahu’s planned press conference on the coronavirus with a 10-minute delay due to the “high probability” that it will contain election campaign messages.

According to Israel’s election laws, news channels may not broadcast direct election campaigning by candidates for 60 days before the election.

Netanyahu was set to deliver a statement and press conference on the outbreak and spread of the virus in Israel shortly after 3 p.m.

Israel has taken far-reaching steps to prevent an outbreak, banning entry to foreigners who were in China, Hong Kong, Macau, Thailand, Singapore, South Korea, Japan and Italy in the 14 days prior to arriving, and compelling all Israelis recently in these areas to self-quarantine for 14 days.

In a dramatic statement Wednesday, the Health Ministry urged Israelis to seriously consider refraining from traveling abroad.

Israel is the first country to urge its citizens to refrain from international travel entirely because of the outbreak, which started in China in December and has since infected over 85,000 worldwide and claimed over 2,900 lives, almost all of them in China.

The Health Ministry has faced criticism for its extreme measures, with some saying it is unnecessarily panicking people and causing economic and diplomatic damage to the country. Ministry officials have said they prefer to take a strict line than be sorry later.

However, Netanyahu said last month that there was no reason to delay the Monday vote due to concerns over the outbreak.

Israel heads to its third national election in a year on Monday.

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