A rare public spat took place Monday between two top allies of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu over the government’s economic policies in light of the coronavirus pandemic.
During a discussion in the Knesset Finance Committee, Finance Minister Israel Katz quarreled with coalition chairman Miki Zohar, both from the ruling Likud party.
Katz accused Zohar of pushing for policy changes to benefit his family interests. In response, Zohar called Katz “detached from the people” and issued a public call for Netanyahu to fire him.
After they continued the altercation on Twitter, the premier summoned both lawmakers to his office to sort out the dispute.
In a video tweeted to his account later in the day, Netanyahu said: “I made clear today to anyone that needed to hear it — the present moment demands unity and responsibility and nothing else.”
In the committee discussion, Zohar had demanded an increase in the maximum compensation for businesses forced to close down to curb the COVID-19 outbreak.
Katz slammed that demand as Zohar’s “personal opinion, in contrast with the prime minister’s opinion, since you have a cousin who owns an event hall.”
Zohar responded by saying he was “sorry we have a finance minister who is detached from the people. With all due respect for the finance minister’s will to show defiance, it doesn’t work on me. I have to say I had a lot of hope when Israel Katz was appointed and I am very disappointed by his behavior.
“It is very possible that the prime minister should be urged to weigh the continued tenure of the finance minister,” Zohar said. “His continued tenure is becoming a danger to Likud’s rule.”
Zohar also said he wanted to speak about Katz’s wife’s business, but did not elaborate.
The meeting was then suspended.
Afterwards, Katz on Twitter accused Zohar of routinely pandering to lobbyists and wrote that even the opposition was showing more responsibility than Zohar.
Zohar admitted that his cousin owns an event hall but denounced as an “embarrassment” the claim that that was his sole interest in arguing for increased compensation.
The argument reportedly began on Sunday, during talks between Netanyahu, Katz and leaders of the self-employed anti-government protests.
Zohar has been criticizing Katz on various matters since the latter refused last month to advance Zohar’s bill that would prevent competition in the credit card market.
Two weeks later, Katz responded in an Army Radio interview, touting the fact that he reached a far higher position in the Likud primaries than “some of my critics.”
Zohar, a Sephardi Jew, then accused Katz of displaying “Ashkenazi arrogance” and predicted the finance minister will suffer a “political and professional failure.”