PM rips into opposition after call not to heed virus rules: ‘This is anarchy’
Liberman: 'PM causes anarchy; gov't doesn't meet; no budget'

PM rips into opposition after call not to heed virus rules: ‘This is anarchy’

Netanyahu says experts concerned about likely spike in serious cases, deaths; claims cases have not been traced to rallies against him because demonstrators shut off phones

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu speaks during a press conference at a military base belonging to the IDF's Home Front Command, on September 7, 2020. (Screen capture/YouTube)
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu speaks during a press conference at a military base belonging to the IDF's Home Front Command, on September 7, 2020. (Screen capture/YouTube)

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu tore into leaders of the opposition on Monday, saying they were encouraging Israelis to stop heeding government guidelines aimed at curbing the spread of the coronavirus.

“Unfortunately, politicians are exploiting the pandemic for political ends and calling for non-compliance with the guidelines,” the premier said during a press conference, while touring a base being built for the IDF Home Front Command’s contact tracing program. “This is anarchy.”

“Show responsibility, stop this inappropriate… behavior,” he said, in an apparent reference to Yisrael Beytenu chairman Avigdor Liberman’s remarks hours earlier, in which he urged Israelis not to comply with the government’s “illegal” regulations, claiming they were purely political and not in citizens’ best interests.

“Anarchy will lead to many more seriously ill patients and unfortunately many people will die as well. That is why I say [to opposition lawmakers]: Take responsibility. Stop this inappropriate and dangerous behavior,” Netanyahu continued. “You must listen to the instructions. No rebellion… is an answer to what is happening in Israel.

Yisrael Beytenu party leader Avigdor Liberman (R) speaks with Yesh Atid chief Yair Lapid at the Knesset on November 16, 2015. (Miriam Alster/ Flash90/File)

As he spoke, the premier’s Twitter account posted a letter that he sent to four out of the five chairmen of opposition parties saying that he expects the politicians to “clarify to the public that the rules must be followed in their entirety.”

The letter was addressed to Liberman, Yesh Atid head Yair Lapid, Yamina head Naftali Bennett, and Joint List head Ayman Odeh. A Likud official told the Walla news site that Meretz chairman Nitzan Horowitz was not included, as he had not made remarks urging the public to disobey public health guidelines.

Lapid issued a statement responding to the allegations that addressed Netanyahu directly. “You failed miserably in dealing with the crisis, both health-wise and economically. Your dangerous, arrogant, and irresponsible statements, and those of your close associates, as well as the failure to make decisions, has led to over 1,000 deaths from the coronavirus,” he wrote.

Lapid wrote that he expects Netanyahu to “take responsibility, admit your failure, and resign.”

Liberman similarly did not budge, telling Channel 12 in an interview that Netanyahu is “making decisions on a solely political basis,” after ultra-Orthodox political leaders Aryeh Deri and Yaakov Litzman “censor” the health information.

“The prime minister is causing anarchy — the government doesn’t meet; there is no budget,” he said.

He again insisted that Israelis should use their common sense, rather than heeding the government health rules.

“I have much greater faith in Israeli citizens’ common sense than in the little nightly politics between Bibi [Netanyahu] and the Haredim,” said Liberman.

Illustrative: Magen David Adom workers escorting a patient to the coronavirus unit at Shaare Zedek hospital in Jerusalem on April 20, 2020. (Nati Shohat/Flash90)

Liberman went on to compare his position to Ariel Sharon’s disregard for government orders on the eve of the 1973 Yom Kippur War, which he said saved Israel.

Netanyahu categorically denied that he had allowed pressure from Haredi lawmakers to influence the government’s coronavirus policy, repeatedly dismissing questions from reporters suggesting the contrary during Monday’s press conference.

Netanyahu said he was “very impressed” by the inter-ministerial cooperation and added that the program to cut the chains of infection could be “the best of its kind in the world.”

He touted the government’s efforts to contain the virus and rehabilitate the economy, even as Israel has seen some of the worst infection rates worldwide.

“The Israeli economy has contracted half of what European economies experienced,” he claimed.

But the prime minister went on to admit that Israel’s COVID-19 rates are troubling.“We are experiencing a high infection rate” and it may be accelerating, he acknowledged.

The numbers are growing because people are not wearing masks and there are gatherings, he continued, blaming the public for the ongoing uptick. “The experts are worried about a surprise spike in serious cases” and deaths, he said.

Later during the press conference, Netanyahu claimed protesters outside his home calling for his ouster have been turning off their cellphones to avoid Shin Bet tracking that would put them in isolation over exposure to the coronavirus at the mass gatherings.

Asked to address Health Ministry data indicating the weekly demonstrations have not been driving up infections, he responded, “Permit me to smile.”

“They shut off their phones,” the prime minister said, adding that others are doing the same to avoid detection.

Israelis clash with police during a protest march against Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in Jerusalem on their way to PM Netanyahu’s official residence on Balfour. September 5, 2020. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

However, Haaretz reported that shutting off one’s phone does not allow one to elude Shin Bet tracking.

Netanyahu was also asked whether Israelis will be placed under lockdown over Rosh Hashanah. “I don’t know,” he answered, adding that the government is doing everything to avoid — or at least delay — such a move.

Also visiting the Home Front Command program — which will not be operational until at least November — was Defense Minister Benny Gantz, Health Minister Yuli Edelstein, and the government’s coronavirus czar, Ronni Gamzu.

Addressing the residents of highly infected areas, Gamzu said that the government decisions to impose restrictions there are not personal.

“I certainly have nothing against you. We are all responsible for each other,” he said.

He again apologized to the ultra-Orthodox community “if it felt that we are labeling” them specifically as highly infected areas. Most of the localities set for stricter rules are Arab-majority or ultra-Orthodox.

“Stop the weddings, stop the gatherings. We know they cause infections,” he said.

Gamzu also asserted that he would not resign, despite recent calls for his ouster from Haredi lawmakers.

“The government is united. I am receiving support — let no one think otherwise,” he stated.

Amid an ongoing second wave of infections, Israel’s death toll passed the 1,000 mark over the weekend. Just over a month ago, on August 6, the death toll stood at 565.

The transition government imposed harsh lockdown measures during the initial wave of the virus, managing to bring daily case numbers down to a couple of dozen in May. The country swiftly reopened, and since then has seen the pandemic spread at an unprecedented pace, currently making it one of the countries with the highest daily infections per capita in the world.

Officials have blamed the swift reopening of schools and other services, a weak contact tracing system, and dwindling public will to maintain guidelines for the spike over the last several months.

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