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‘Blood will be on your hands’: Recordings leaked from chaotic cabinet meeting

Defense Minister Benny Gantz (left) and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, seen during a vote to stave off a budget deadline and thus avert elections, at the Knesset on August 24, 2020. (Oren Ben Hakoon/Pool)
Defense Minister Benny Gantz (left) and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, seen during a vote to stave off a budget deadline and thus avert elections, at the Knesset on August 24, 2020. (Oren Ben Hakoon/Pool)

Two of Israel’s three major networks broadcast extensive leaked recordings from Thursday night’s tumultuous cabinet meeting on the extension of the lockdown, during which Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu at one point accused Defense Minister Benny Gantz that “the blood of many Israelis” would be on his hands and the Blue and White party head charged the premier that he was “throwing dust in the public’s eyes.”

The recordings are aired simultaneously on both Channel 12 news and the Kan public broadcaster — with each branding them “exclusive” — causing Gantz’s office to complain that Netanyahu’s associates leaked them to benefit the premier in the upcoming elections and to demand that the entire protocol of all cabinet meetings on the coronavirus be made public.

The chaotic night, which began after Gantz conditioned the lockdown extension on the prior passage of a law doubling fines for violations, saw an initial decision to continue the closure overturned by the attorney general who said the extension could not be passed with the entire Blue and White bloc of the egalitarian government opposing it.

Many of the angry exchanges between Netanyahu and Gantz during the meeting have previously been published in the media, but the recordings are new, highlighting the unity government’s inability to agree on even simple steps to battle the surging COVID-19 infections, given the respective parties’ deep distrust and elections looming next month.

The recordings seem to focus mainly on Netanyahu’s attacks against Gantz and other Blue and White party members, many of which appeared to be aimed more at potential voters — convincing them that the premier should not be blamed for the rampant infections — than at fellow ministers.

“The public understands your game very well. It understands you are condemning many Israelis to serious illness and death,” says the premier, who himself has been widely accused of failing to take sufficient action against surging infections between May and September last year.

Gantz, a former IDF chief of staff, is heard retorting: “Don’t tell me stories, don’t lecture me about responsibility for human lives. You are throwing dust in the public’s eyes.”

Netanyahu: “The lives of many Israelis will be on your hands, Benny, don’t tell me stories.”

The premier charged that Blue and White prefer to reopen the economy even if it costs lives: “We understand you’re adopting an oppositional stance, we understand it’s your strategy. Open, open, open, morbidity will rise, and you know exactly what the result will be. In these 50 days left until the election, I expect that you will always object to what we propose.”

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