PM’s office slams rumors Netanyahu faking the flu to avoid work meeting

Rumors circulate on social media after premier cancels entire Sunday schedule, with his health under scrutiny following recent pacemaker surgery

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu arrives to a discussion and a vote on the expulsion of MK Ofer Cassif at the Knesset in Jerusalem, February 19, 2024 (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90).
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu arrives to a discussion and a vote on the expulsion of MK Ofer Cassif at the Knesset in Jerusalem, February 19, 2024 (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90).

The Prime Minister’s Office issued a statement denying “fake news” reports about Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu as rumors circulated online that he was pretending to have the flu to get out of government meetings.

The statement issued Monday evening said it “outright rejects” the reports and insisted that the premier had “contracted seasonal flu” and that many PMO employees were also ill.

The PMO announced on Saturday that Netanyahu would miss Sunday’s weekly cabinet meeting due to the flu. Subsequently, posts circulated on social media suggesting unfounded speculations, including that the prime minister was trying to dodge a discussion on security plans for the Temple Mount over Ramadan and that he took the day off to celebrate his 33rd wedding anniversary with his wife, Sara.

There were also questions about who was in charge while the premier was unwell.

“Prime Minister Netanyahu continues to make decisions, hold consultations, lead the war, and manage all the affairs of the state,” the Monday statement said, noting that the prime minister had been examined by his physician, Dr. Tzvi Herman Berkovitz, who said he was in good condition.

Earlier Monday, an Israeli official told The Times of Israel that Netanyahu had canceled his entire schedule and was home sick with the flu.

The prime minister’s health has been under particular scrutiny since July, when he underwent surgery to implant a pacemaker following a fainting spell at his home in Caesarea. It was only after the surgery that Netanyahu’s chronic heart condition, dubbed “transient heart block,” was revealed to the public. He was reportedly diagnosed with the condition 20 years prior.

At the time, questions swirled over the 74-year-old premier’s health and whether the severity of the situation had been obscured from the public.

Despite protocols requiring prime ministers to release an annual health report, Netanyahu did not release one from 2016 until late 2023, when the report stated that he was in good health. It was not possible to legally force him to share his health information as the protocols have not been enshrined in law.

In February, the High Court rejected a petition from two former army chiefs requesting that Netanyahu be declared unfit to serve, claiming that he was harming national security by prioritizing personal matters over the war against Hamas in Gaza that began on October 7 when thousands of Hamas terrorists invaded Israel’s South, killing some 1,200 people and taking 253 hostages. In addition, the petition cited the prime minister’s failure to disclose the details of the health condition that landed him in the hospital in July.

“The series of actions and omissions that occurred before and after the October 7 massacre shows that the interests and considerations that motivate Netanyahu are ‘personal, narrow, irrelevant and foreign to the interests of the state, the public, the hostages and their families,'” Hebrew daily Haaretz quoted the petition as stating.

In the written rejection, the justices said the petition had been filed prematurely, just three weeks after petitioners requested Netanyahu respond to their charges, which did not meet the requirement for “sufficient time” for him to examine and respond to the claims.

It said the ongoing war made their expectation of a quick reply “unacceptable,” noting that the demand for a “full and detailed health declaration” to be submitted by Netanyahu could not have been completed within the narrow timeframe given by the petition’s signatories.

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