Yisrael Beytenu leader Avigdor Liberman urged Israelis on Monday not to comply with the government’s “illegal” health regulations, which he said were purely political and not in citizens’ best interest.
“The rules are illegal, don’t follow them, but rather use common sense,” Liberman said at the opening of his party’s weekly faction meeting in the Knesset.
Ministers on Sunday evening approved nightly curfews in some 40 cities with high infection numbers, instead of the previously planned full lockdown on a smaller number of towns, in the wake of a threat of rebellion from some ultra-Orthodox mayors and a major political crisis with the ultra-Orthodox parties.
Liberman said that Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu had “sacrificed public health on the altar of protecting the coalition, and therefore all decisions made are blatantly illegal.”
The cabinet had been due on Sunday to vote on a plan formulated by the government’s virus czar, Ronni Gamzu, to impose lockdowns on 10 municipalities, including the Arab towns of Umm al-Fahm, Tira and Kfar Qassem, and the Haredi towns of Elad, Bnei Brak, Beitar Illit and Emmanuel.
But facing a withering backlash by Haredi leaders, Netanyahu called off the special cabinet meeting on the lockdowns and held a meeting with the heads of the two major ultra-Orthodox political parties, Housing Minister Yaakov Litzman of United Torah Judaism and Interior Minister Aryeh Deri of Shas, to hammer out a new policy toward so-called “red” municipalities — those with the highest infection rates — in an effort to assuage rising anger in the Haredi street.
“We cannot allow citizens of the State of Israel to become hostages of Deri, Litzman and Gafni,” Liberman said, proposing to abolish the so-called coronavirus cabinet and give full control over Israel’s virus response to the Israel Defense Forces.
Liberman’s comments were met with a barrage of criticism from cabinet ministers and the president.
“The fight against the coronavirus pandemic is a fight we all share,” President Reuven Rivlin wrote on Twitter. “Calls for civil disobedience harm the principles ensuring our well-being and the well-being of the entire public, specifically during crises. Leaders — opposition and coalition alike — please be careful with what you say.”
Health Minister Yuli Edelstein of the Likud party said, “Liberman is playing with fire,” charging that the opposition politician was acting “recklessly and irresponsibly and taking advantage of a fragile health and economic situation. Shame.”
The call to disobey government regulations is “irresponsible,” Knesset Speaker Yariv Levin, also of Likud, said in a statement, and will “create anarchy and endanger the health of all citizens of Israel. This is the opposite of serving as a public example and leadership.”
Defense Minister and Blue and White chairman Benny Gantz also called Liberman’s comments “irresponsible” and urged him not to use the pandemic to shore up political capital.
“The coronavirus is not here to move [Knesset] seats [from one party to another] or a means for political goading,” said Gantz.
Israel on Saturday passed the grim landmark of 1,000 deaths due to the novel coronavirus, according to the Health Ministry, becoming the 49th country in the world to do so.
Even as testing rates plummeted over the weekend to just 15,317 on Saturday, there were 1,523 new infections confirmed, the Health Ministry said Sunday evening. The percentage of positive tests stood at a worrying 9.9%.
In total there have been 131,970 cases since the start of the pandemic, 26,683 of which are active.
There were 476 patients hospitalized in serious condition, of whom 137 were on ventilators, the Health Ministry said Monday. Additionally, 162 people were in moderate condition.
Israel currently has the highest rate of new infections per capita in the world, by weekly average.