Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Friday lashed out at a top Finance Ministry official who opposes his plan to disperse financial aid to all Israeli adults, as the country grapples with an economic crisis in the wake of the coronavirus pandemic.
“It’s inconceivable that bureaucrats are briefing [the media] against decisions made by the government and are working to thwart them. We won’t accept this,” Netanyahu wrote on Facebook.
The premier didn’t name any officials but shared a post by Likud MK Shlomi Karai that included a large photo of Shaul Meridor, head of the Finance Ministry’s budget department.
The NIS 6 billion ($1.75 billion) stimulus plan announced by Netanyahu on Wednesday will see all Israelis over the age of 18 get a check from the government. Couples with one child receive a one-time payment of NIS 2,000 ($583), which rises to NIS 2,500 ($729) for those with two children, and NIS 3,000 ($875) for those with three or more. Single Israelis aged over 18 will receive NIS 750 ($218).
Netanyahu and Finance Minister Israel Katz unveiled the plan despite objections from Finance Ministry officials. According to a television report, Meridor warned during a tense meeting on the proposal that “we need to be careful not to become Venezuela.” The South American country has the highest inflation rate in the world and suffers from major shortages of basic goods after years of major outlays on social spending.
“We’re already familiar with the phenomenon in which bureaucrats try to control the country against elected officials. Shaul Meridor, head of the budget department at the Treasury, has turned this into an art,” Karai wrote on Facebook. “He’s torpedoing Prime Minister Netanyahu’s decisions to transfer money and assistance to Israeli citizens.”
He also claimed Meridor was briefing reporters against the government and was engaged in a “delegitimization campaign.”
Katz, also a member of Netanyahu’s Likud party, warned of disciplinary measures if “evidence for these types of acts” is presented to him, according to a statement quoted by Hebrew media.
Backing Meridor, Strategic Affairs Minister Orit Farkash-Hacohen said it was the duty of civil servants to express their opinion, even when it conflicts with the position of elected officials.
“The effort to paint this in political colors is dangerous. This hurts people who dedicated their lives to public service and deters quality people from coming,” Farkash-Hacohen, a member of the Blue and White party, wrote on Twitter.
Netanyahu in recent days has increasingly accused unnamed bureaucrats of seeking to block his financial aid proposals, amid growing discontent over his handling of the pandemic and his economic policies to address the fallout that has accompanied the government-mandated measures against the virus.
The criticism of Meridor came as Likud MK Michal Shir, an ally of Netanyahu’s internal party rival Gideon Sa’ar, accused the prime minister of trying to deflect blame over his response to the virus and dismissing any criticism as political.
According to a Channel 12 news poll published Thursday, 56 percent of Israelis believe Netanyahu’s handouts for all package — which has been panned by top finance officials, government ministers and many citizens — is primarily motivated by political considerations, versus 36% who believe it was conceived out of a desire to juice the economy. Another 8% didn’t know.
The poll also asked respondents if they support or oppose another nationwide lockdown, which Netanyahu and health officials have warned of as Israel sees a record number of new COVID-19 infections. Forty-seven percent said they oppose another lockdown, 42% support it and 11% don’t know.
Asked whether they support handing responsibility for managing the pandemic to the Defense Ministry, as Defense Minister Benny Gantz is lobbying for, 57% said they do, 20% said they oppose this and 23% didn’t know.
The survey, which was conducted by pollster Manu Geva, had 506 respondents and a 4.4% margin of error.