Lapid calls on Netanyahu to resign after having ‘lost control’ of COVID crisis

Bennett slaps down idea of alternative coalition, tells Yesh Atid leader: stop ‘encouraging anarchy’; Liberman says gov’t dodging responsibility, wants Gantz to helm virus response

Sam Sokol is the Times of Israel's political correspondent. He was previously a reporter for the Jerusalem Post, Jewish Telegraphic Agency and Haaretz. He is the author of "Putin’s Hybrid War and the Jews"

MK Yair Lapid (Miriam Alster/Flash90)
MK Yair Lapid (Miriam Alster/Flash90)

Opposition leader Yair Lapid called on Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to step aside on Sunday, accusing the premier of failing to properly manage the current public health and economic crises engulfing Israel.

“Benjamin Netanyahu needs to resign. He’s failed. He’s lost control. The coronavirus crisis isn’t being managed, not the economic aspect and not the health aspect. He isn’t a manager, he’s a PR man,” Lapid said while addressing his Yesh Atid party’s weekly faction meeting in the Knesset.

“The failure is wall to wall and it’s all his. This coming January, at the peak of the winter wave of COVID-19, he will sit in court as a defendant three times a week. Netanyahu has done some good things in the past, but that’s over. We can’t go on like this. He has to go.”

Lapid said that he didn’t want new elections, nor would they be necessary should Netanyahu step down, asserting that such a move would create the opportunity for the quick emergence of a new and more effective coalition.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu meets with Brian Hook, US Special Representative for Iran and Senior Adviser to the US Secretary of State, at the Prime Minister’s Office in Jerusalem on June 30, 2020. (Olivier Fitoussi/Flash90)

“If Netanyahu resigns then in 48 hours, we will create a real emergency government. A real unity government. Not the huge disconnected government that we’re stuck with but the real thing. Eighteen ministers, an efficient, effective and goal-driven government,” he said.

Lapid asserted that as soon as Netanyahu is out of the picture “everyone will join forces — us, Bennett, Liberman, everyone.”

“We’re in a state of emergency. I call upon all the factions in the Knesset to show him the door,” he said.

Yamina party leader MK Naftali Bennett, at a press conference in Jerusalem on May 14, 2020. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

However Naftali Bennett, the leader of the opposition right-wing party Yamina, quickly poured cold water on the idea of a Lapid-led alternative coalition.

“Yair, you can’t have Bennett and also the Joint List,” Bennett wrote on Twitter, referring to the predominantly Arab party. “It won’t happen. We are in an emergency situation. I encourage my colleagues in Yesh Atid to focus on assisting the defeat of the coronavirus instead of encouraging anarchy.”

Speaking at his own faction meeting on Sunday, MK Avigdor Liberman, head of the right-wing secularist Yisrael Beytenu party, also currently in the opposition, did not go as far as Lapid but did lay the blame for Israel’s current trouble squarely in the prime minister’s lap.

“The present crisis is a crisis of management, it’s not a coronavirus crisis, it’s not an economic crisis, it’s a crisis of leadership and a failure of the system and a total loss of control,” Liberman said.

Liberman lamented the government’s failure to quickly appoint a coronavirus manager to help oversee the government’s response to the virus, its struggle to finalize an economic bailout plan and the uncertainty surrounding how the upcoming school year will be handled.

Yisrael Beytenu chairman Avigdor Liberman wears a protective face mask during a faction meeting in Tel Aviv on June 7, 2020. (Tomer Neuberg/Flash90)

He also panned the government’s inconsistency, noting that “on Friday morning the government decided to close all the restaurants and on Friday afternoon they decided to open all the restaurants.”

Facing widespread threats by restaurant owners to defy government orders Friday, Netanyahu at the last minute backtracked on a decision to shut down all eateries, with the exception of deliveries and takeaways, delaying the implementation of the open-ended ban until Tuesday morning.

Liberman also brought up a comment by Prof. Eli Waxman — a physicist who heads a panel of experts advising the National Security Council’s deliberations on combating the pandemic — to the effect that Israel had “lost control of the pandemic.”

“If he is right the health minister needs to resign,” he said. “But if he is wrong the premier should fire him [Waxman].”

Asserting that “the government refuses to take responsibility,” he called on Defense Minister and Alternate Prime Minister Benny Gantz to demand that Netanyahu transfer all responsibility for combating the virus to the Defense Ministry and IDF.

Yisrael Beytenu is “ready to extend a hand and support every smart and considered decision that is based on data,” he said.

Times of Israel staff contributed to this report.

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