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Lapid says he’ll oppose another lockdown, should have sat in on virus cabinet

FM vows to be more involved in pandemic response, rejects criticism of government’s handling of current wave; says US won’t dictate Israeli policy on Iran

Foreign Minister Yair Lapid heads a Yesh Atid faction meeting at the Knesset in Jerusalem, on August 2, 2021. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)
Foreign Minister Yair Lapid heads a Yesh Atid faction meeting at the Knesset in Jerusalem, on August 2, 2021. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

Foreign Minister Yair Lapid said on Thursday that he would oppose another national lockdown to stem surging COVID-19 cases, vowing to take a more active role in the government’s pandemic response after skipping meetings of the high-level coronavirus cabinet.

In primetime interviews with Israeli television networks, Lapid pushed back against criticism of the new government’s handling of the current coronavirus wave. Daily COVID cases are at their highest levels in months after dropping to low double and even single digits around the time of the government’s swearing-in in June.

“There’s a pandemic. This is not only an Israeli phenomenon,” he told the Kan public broadcaster. “There’s an outbreak of a new variant, the Delta variant… and on the whole I think we’re dealing with this fine.”

After it was revealed earlier this month that he hadn’t attended a single meeting of the coronavirus cabinet, Lapid chalked up his absence to a division of labor that he agreed on with Prime Minister Naftali Bennett.

“The prime minister focused more on the pandemic, I focused more on passing the budget and maintaining the coalition,” he said. “It could be I missed the moment that I needed to get involved more.”

He told Channel 13 news that media criticism of his absence from the meetings led him to reverse course.

“I don’t want a situation to be created in which the prime minister is alone at the front absorbing all the criticism. I deserve the same criticism he does,” he said.

Foreign Minister Yair Lapid, left, and Prime Minister Naftali Bennett seen in the Knesset, on July 26, 2021. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

Lapid said that at next week’s meeting of the coronavirus cabinet, he would back reopening schools on September 1, amid calls to push off the start of the school year due to high morbidity levels.

“We need to get the kids back to school. They lost a year of their lives… I think that in the schools, there will be infections, but, at these ages, it’s less dangerous,” he told Kan.

Lapid added: “We need to live a normal life as much as possible alongside the pandemic, and part of a normal life is that, on September 1, the kids are going to school.”

The foreign minister also stressed he would oppose another lockdown, which would be Israel’s fourth since the pandemic began, emphasizing the economic cost.

“I’m against a lockdown and will do everything to prevent a lockdown,” he told Channel 12.

In the interview with Channel 13, Lapid said that the United States would not dictate Israeli policy, when asked about agreeing with US Secretary of State Antony Blinken to “no surprises” on Iran.

Opposition Leader Benjamin Netanyahu has frequently criticized Lapid for this understanding with the US, though senior Israeli officials made similar agreements under governments that Netanyahu led.

“This policy exists since the 1970s, we don’t surprise the Americans. It doesn’t change the fact that this government will do what it thinks is right, definitely against Iran, and won’t ask for approval or permission from anyone,” Lapid said.

“This doesn’t contradict the policy of zero surprises.”

US Secretary of State Antony Blinken, left, meets with Foreign Minister Yair Lapid in Rome, on Sunday, June 27, 2021. (AP Photo/Andrew Harnik, Pool)

Lapid was also pressed in the interviews about the number of ministers in the current government, the third-most in Israel’s history, despite frequently criticizing Netanyahu’s past government — which had the most — for its size.

“I have no way to defend this. If it was up to me, there would be a government of 18 ministers. It was not only dependent upon me, and the alternative was that a government wouldn’t be formed, so we decided to form a government,” he said.

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