Likud MK slams Netanyahu for dismissing criticism of virus response as political

Likud MK slams Netanyahu for dismissing criticism of virus response as political

Michal Shir criticizes ‘threats against committee heads and MKs’ for questioning government decisions, says there’s still no clear plan for economic crisis

Likud MK Michal Shir at an orientation day at the Knesset, April 29, 2019. (Noam Moscowitz/Knesset)
Likud MK Michal Shir at an orientation day at the Knesset, April 29, 2019. (Noam Moscowitz/Knesset)

A freshman lawmaker from Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s Likud party hit out at the premier on Thursday, criticizing him for allegedly intimidating political allies who question government decisions and for refusing to take responsibility for Israel’s problems.

MK Michal Shir warned that Israel “is not in a good place,” and, “if we do not wake up – we will collapse.”

“I am a proud Likud member and have never had another home,” she wrote on Facebook, saying Netanyahu must be willing to accept criticism “without his people accusing anyone who doubts or expresses concern, of being a radical or a leftist. It is forbidden to disengage from the people” and their “real distress must not be downplayed.”

On Monday, Likud backbencher MK Osnat Mark derided attendees of a recent demonstration against the government’s coronavirus economic plans as “radical leftists,” implying that widespread antipathy toward the prime minister among the protesters was illegitimate.

Likud MK Osnat Mark during a Knesset committee meeting on May 21, 2019. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

“I did not see the self-employed there. Only leftists and radical leftists who came and said one thing: ‘Down with Bibi,’” she said during a session of the Knesset’s Economic Affairs Committee.

“We are not in an election campaign right now, we are in a campaign to save the self-employed, and this must be done in conjunction with the government.”

In her Facebook post, Shir said that she would “not close my ears” to the public outcry and that she had received “endless inquiries from citizens, salaried workers, the self-employed and business owners, most of whom are desperate, some are no longer asking for money but for food.”

Addressing Netanyahu, whom she styled “Mr. Economy,” she said that it was important that he understand that “these people — Likudists, right-wing, left-wing Jewish, Christians and Muslims — Israelis — are suffering and that this suffering has nothing to do with their political affiliation.”

“As of today (and since the beginning of the crisis) there is really no orderly and effective plan for managing the economic crisis,” she asserted, stating that the distribution of stipends “is not a plan.”

Shir is a close ally of Likud MK Gideon Sa’ar, an internal rival of Netanyahu’s who last year unsuccessfully challenged the premier in the party’s leadership primaries.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu shakes hands with Gideon Sa’ar during a Likud party meeting at the Menachem Begin Heritage Center in Jerusalem on March 11, 2019. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

Netanyahu announced on Wednesday that the government would distribute stipends to all Israelis, regardless of financial standing. Anyone above 18 will receive NIS 750 ($217). Families with one child will receive NIS 2,000 ($580), those with two NIS 2,500 ($725) and those with three children or more will get NIS 3,000 ($870).

While Netanyahu explained the stimulus program as motivated by the “need to get the wheels moving and make sure nobody falls between the cracks,” it was met with criticism by top finance officials, members of his government and by many citizens.

“Engaging in petty politics, surrendering to bureaucrats who have never issued an invoice or run a business, arbitrarily pouring billions in favor of industrial silence, blaming the public, harming the Knesset — all this is not a plan that will provide an effective response to Israeli citizens,” she said.

Shir also said that she could not agree with the “silencing of the legislature” or “threats against committee heads and MKs who will vote and act like robots,” according to the party line, in order to keep their political futures out of “danger.”

Knesset Member Yifat Shasha-Biton attends the Education, Culture, and Sports Committee on July 15, 2019. (Hadas Parush/Flash90)

She was likely referring to the recent vocal criticism of Coronavirus Committee head Yifat Shasha-Biton, who overturned a government decision to close outdoor swimming pools and gyms, leading to a promise from Likud bigwigs to oust and replace her as chairwoman.

According to Channel 12, just before Shasha-Biton voted to reverse the government’s decision, Likud MK and coalition whip Miki Zohar angrily approached her and whispered in her ear: “You are finished in the Likud party. You [will be] ousted as committee chairwoman. Have a nice life.”

Netanyahu has hit back hard at critics in recent years, accusing the police and state prosecution of an “attempted coup” after being indicted on bribery, breach of trust and fraud charges last year and repeatedly attacking the news media for what he sees as unfavorable coverage.

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