IDF probing whether soldiers stole, leaked file on minister who broke lockdown

Army acknowledges suspicions that contact tracing database may have been hacked by military personnel and information on Gila Gamliel released to press

Minister for Social equality Gila Gamliel (Likud) (Flash90)
Minister for Social equality Gila Gamliel (Likud) (Flash90)

The Israel Defense Forces is investigating suspicions that military personnel hacked the database of epidemiological investigations and leaked the file on Environmental Protection Minister Gila Gamliel, who violated the national coronavirus lockdown and contracted COVID-19.

Gamliel, a member of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s Likud party, has faced heavy criticism after it emerged that she had traveled to Tiberias for Yom Kippur and prayed indoors at a synagogue, with reports indicating she lied about her whereabouts.

According to a report by the Kan public broadcaster Thursday morning, the IDF suspects that the information may have been accessed via the internal army database.

Responding to the report, the IDF confirmed it was looking into the incident and said those responsible will be punished.

“This is an irregular and serious incident. The issue will be thoroughly investigated by the commander of the Home Front Command. After the investigation is concluded, and in accordance with its findings, measures will be taken against those involved,” the IDF spokesperson’s department said.

On Monday, it was reported that a technical glitch was to blame for suspicions that Gamliel had lied to contact tracers about violating the lockdown.

According to Hebrew media reports, an inquiry found that Gamliel told contact tracers she was in Tiberias, but the Health Ministry’s computer system only listed Tel Aviv, due to a glitch that automatically changes the location of where a person was infected to their place of residence.

IDF contact tracers in the central city of Ramle, in a TV report released on September 25, 2020. (Screenshot/Channel 13)

On Monday, Attorney General Avichai Mandelblit said he would not open a criminal probe into Gamliel and that there was “no basis” for allegations that she had lied.

In his statement Monday, Mandelblit also said Gamliel “fully cooperated and provided true facts.”

Breaking the coronavirus restrictions on travel from home can be punished with a fine. However, misleading contact-tracing investigators or knowingly spreading the virus can carry separate heavy penalties.

A police probe into a minister can only go ahead with a nod from the attorney general. Mandelblit made his decision after receiving the results of an initial police probe into the matter.

Mandelblit additionally noted that he had instructed police “that in cases where there is alleged evidence of a serious violation of restrictions by elected officials and senior officials, there will be enforcement even retroactively.”

The attorney general emphasized the need for officials to obey regulations and set an example to the general public to ensure widespread compliance.

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.

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