Likud rebels, opposition MKs said teaming up for panel to challenge virus policy
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Likud rebels, opposition MKs said teaming up for panel to challenge virus policy

Barkat, Sa’ar deny new committee is a ‘shadow coronavirus cabinet,’ saying it will work with the government; first topic for talks: possible 3rd wave of outbreak in winter

Gideon Sa'ar (R) and Naftali Bennett seen during an assembly session in the plenum hall at the Knesset on February 24, 2014 (Miriam Alster/Flash90)
Gideon Sa'ar (R) and Naftali Bennett seen during an assembly session in the plenum hall at the Knesset on February 24, 2014 (Miriam Alster/Flash90)

A number of lawmakers from Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s Likud are planning to join forces with opposition MKs and form a committee which will challenge government policy on the coronavirus pandemic, Channel 12 news reported Friday.

The panel is to reportedly to be convened under Derech Eretz MK Zvi Hauser’s powerful Knesset Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee, which oversees the military and other aspects of national security and diplomacy.

According to the report, the panel is to be made up of committee members and former defense ministers Yamina chairman Naftali Bennett, Yisrael Beytenu party leader Avigdor Liberman and Telem head Moshe Ya’alon, as well as Likud’s former head of the Shin Bet security service Avi Dichter, former Jerusalem mayor Nir Barkat and Netanyahu’s primary challenger, Gideon Sa’ar.

Dichter, Barkat and Sa’ar were all passed over for ministerial positions.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Likud MK Nir Barkat (R) at a campaign event in Tel Aviv on February 16, 2020. (Tomer Neuberg/Flash90)

Bennett in particular has been an outspoken critic of the government’s approach to the pandemic. As defense minister during the first wave of the outbreak, he lobbied for his ministry to be given more responsibility over the pandemic, to little avail.

Barkat and Sa’ar denied to Channel 12 that the panel was a “shadow coronavirus cabinet,” but said it is instead a committee that will work alongside the government.

The first topic the panel will discuss is the possibility of a third wave of the coronavirus pandemic in the winter, Channel 12 reported. Members of the defense establishment, health officials, and National Security Council members are expected to participate in the discussions.

The report came after a series of reversals of government-imposed restrictions by a panel of lawmakers, and the Knesset passing a law that grants the cabinet expanded powers to impose wide-ranging restrictions to curb the coronavirus pandemic, while reducing parliamentary oversight, in a move seen as designed to disempower the Coronavirus Committee.

Customers at a Tel Aviv cafe on July 22, 2020 (Miriam Alster/Flash90)

The so-called Great Coronavirus Law, which comes into force on August 10, reduces the Knesset’s oversight power and neuters the Coronavirus Committee.

The Knesset Coronavirus Committee this week continued with its series of reversals of cabinet-imposed restrictions, ruling in several separate decisions that restaurants, attractions, swimming pools and beaches could remain open over the weekend and that gyms may reopen on Sunday morning.

The committee has said the Health Ministry has not provided sufficient evidence to justify shuttering such places, but health officials say the origin of a significant portion of infections is not known, therefore forcing them to partially rely on global data on infections to decide on high-risk locations.

A woman is tested by a healthcare worker for the coronavirus at a mobile testing station, in east Jerusalem, July 21, 2020. (AP Photo/Oded Balilty)

On Friday evening the Health Ministry’s latest figures showed Israel recorded 2,022 new coronavirus cases in the past 24 hours, similar to daily numbers over the past week. The national death toll rose by two to 448.

The latest cases brought the total case count in Israel to 59,475, of which 32,230 were active cases. Of the patients, 308 were in serious condition (84 of them on ventilators), 138 were in moderate condition and the rest had mild symptoms or were asymptomatic.

On Friday The New York Times ranked Israel sixth in the world in new daily cases per 1 million people, with a little under 200 a day at that ratio.

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