Tel Aviv mayor and head of the newly formed The Israelis party Ron Huldai said Sunday that he will not wait for government approval to reopen cultural sites in his city, and that he plans to allow theaters and museums to raise their curtains and throw open their doors to those who have been fully vaccinated.
“At the beginning of February, I will open all the cultural institutions in Tel Aviv-Jaffa to anyone who has received two vaccines,” Huldai tweeted, referring to the two doses of the inoculation required for full effectiveness.
“There [will be] a large number of vaccinated people with green passports. There is no reason why those who have been vaccinated should not be able to go to the Cameri [theater],” he told the Kan public broadcaster in a subsequent interview.
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said last week that the government was working on rolling out “green passports,” which will grant access for those vaccinated or who have recovered from COVID-19 to certain gatherings and events that are currently banned.
Amid Israel’s aggressive vaccination drive, over 2 million Israelis have already received the first shot of the vaccine, and nearly 225,000 have received the second dose. All Israelis over the age of 45 are eligible to receive the first COVID-19 shot through their health providers starting Sunday.
Huldai, who announced earlier this month that he would be running in the March elections as head of his new party but has rejected calls to resign from Tel Aviv city hall, accused Netanyahu of using the restrictions for his own political gain.
“We cannot wait for Netanyahu to open [cultural sites] the day before the election,” Huldai charged.
Responding to the announcement, Health Minister Yuli Edelstein of the Likud party threw back the accusation of politicizing the virus response, saying Huldai was “playing politics at the expense of public health.”
Edelstein called the move “scandalous” and said it “should turn on a warning light for every citizen to whom public health is important.”
Culture Minister Chili Tropper of Blue and White said the opening of cultural sites would only be done “in coordination with the Health Ministry and while carefully maintaining the health of those who come to the shows.”
“I’m happy for any public figure who chooses to elevate the importance of cultural events,” he said, but added, “I suggest everyone put populism aside.”
Highlighting a deal announced last week for financial help to the cultural sector, Tropper said: “For many weeks now, the Culture Ministry, together with the directors of Israeli cultural institutions and curators, has been working on an orderly outline for opening up the world of culture, in Tel Aviv and throughout the country, and I am glad that it will be implemented in the near future.”
Tropper and Netanyahu announced the cultural aid package on Friday alongside singer Aviv Gefen. The funds will be given to local authorities who will be obligated to spend it on cultural events.
Gefen, who has been a prominent critic of Netanyahu and has called for his removal, praised the prime minister at the event, saying his push for vaccinations would allow Israel’s cultural scene to be the first in the world to return.
The singer has since faced a backlash from within the music and entertainment community.