TV: Virus czar says vote to shut down was all about protests, ‘made me sick’

Ronni Gamzu said to expresses disgust behind closed doors, assert Netanyahu moved to back complete lockdown only once he understood it was the only way to stop rallies

Coronavirus czar Prof. Ronni Gamzu speaks during a Health Ministry briefing on September 2, 2020. (Screen capture: Facebook)
Coronavirus czar Prof. Ronni Gamzu speaks during a Health Ministry briefing on September 2, 2020. (Screen capture: Facebook)

Israel’s coronavirus czar Ronni Gamzu has privately decried the government’s decision to order a full lockdown on the nation for the next two weeks, expressing disgust at the move and claiming Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu pushed to enforce harsher restrictions only after he learned that he could not stop protests against him otherwise, according to a report by Channel 13 news Thursday.

According to the network, Gamzu told associates he believed the decision was “terrible” and its motives “disgusting,” while musing that he felt had to take nausea pills after it was made.

If cleared through the Knesset Thursday night, the new legislation, set to come into force on Friday at 2 p.m., will see nearly all businesses closed, prayers and public protests severely curtailed, public transportation scaled back dramatically and Israelis ordered to remain close to home with far fewer exceptions than under the existing measures.

According to the report, Gamzu said that the move for harsher restrictions only began once legal experts informed Netanyahu, who was originally against the idea, that it was impossible to prevent the protests against him while large segments of the country remained open.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu gives a televised statement at his official residence in Jerusalem on September 17, 2020. (Screen capture: YouTube)

The next day, said Gamzu, “we were shocked at the change in his position, we woke up with [Netanyahu saying] ‘I want to impose a state of emergency in Israel.'”

Gamzu, a physician and director of Tel Aviv’s Ichilov hospital, reportedly told the cabinet that he didn’t believe a full lockdown of the economy was warranted, but wanted to achieve a “50 percent reduction” in economic activity that would dramatically reduce social contacts, while allowing the measures to last a long time.

Gamzu told reporters Thursday morning that he had recommended “tightening the lockdown, and not shutting down the entire country.” He publicly reiterated his opposition to the new lockdown restrictions set to be implemented Friday, saying the economic harm will be “tremendous.”

However, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu disagreed, preferring a comprehensive and immediate lockdown which he asserted would help reduce infection rates quickly. Netanyahu argued in the cabinet that the coming holidays — Yom Kippur begins Sunday evening and the eight-day Sukkot holiday begins October 2 — are periods when most Israelis won’t be working in any case. Imposing a lockdown over that period is less damaging to the economy than doing so after the holidays, he said.

According to Haaretz, one of the ministers who attended the cabinet meeting early Thursday morning that decided on further restrictions said: “It was clear that [Netanyahu’s] personal desire to cancel the demonstrations was in the background [of his decision-making process]. Every time someone said the word ‘demonstration’, he jumped.”

Defense Minister Benny Gantz, who leads the Blue and White party, had indicated on Wednesday afternoon he was similarly suspicious of Netanyahu’s motives, issuing a statement mid-day that the “obsessive discussion on the protest issue” must stop, calling it “disproportionate.”

But he later moved to back Netanyahu’s position in support of a full lockdown following a conversation between the two. It was not clear what changed Gantz’s mind.

Protests calling on the prime minister to quit over his corruption trial have been held throughout the country several times a week in recent months, boosted by frustration over his response to the pandemic and attacks on the justice system. Saturday night protests in Jerusalem have at times drawn tens of thousands.

Netanyahu and his allies have insisted the mass rallies are a dangerous infection vector, though there has been no data to support this.

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