President Reuven Rivlin on Friday apologized to the Israeli people after it was reported that he celebrated the Passover seder with one of his daughters, despite a strict curfew on the country to prevent people hosting family gatherings and spreading the coronavirus.
The report by the Kan national broadcaster on Rivlin followed news that Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu shared his festive meal with son Avner, prompting outrage that top officials were flouting their own rules while millions of ordinary Israelis were making sacrifices.
“Before the Sabbath comes in, I want to apologize,” Rivlin, 80, wrote on Twitter.
“I have read the harsh reactions to the fact my daughter accompanied me during the holiday and I understand most of them,” he said, adding that since his wife Nehama passed away last year, his children frequently assist with personal and professional matters when his office is not staffed over weekends and holidays.
“I understand that if one is unfamiliar with the schedule as president, it is difficult to understand and I am sorry for that,” he wrote.
Rivlin’s office said that: “The president was accompanied and will be accompanied during the holiday by his daughter after she was tested for coronavirus and found to be negative.”
His office said that since his wife died, a family member was always with him on the Sabbath, holidays and flights overseas. Rivlin has four children. The report did not say which of his two daughters was with him.
The rest of the country celebrated the holiday under a strict curfew that was enforced from Wednesday from 3 p.m. until Thursday morning. The curfew was aimed at preventing Israelis from spending the festive holiday meal with family or others, which officials feared could lead to a fresh wave of COVID-19 infections and set back Israel’s efforts against the virus.
This saw thousands of elderly people forced to spend the holiday alone, without their children or grandchildren, while everyone else celebrated only with those confined together in the same house.
Among the reactions to Rivlin was an op-ed in the Haaretz newspaper, calling on the president to resign, saying that he had “betrayed” the people who expected more from him.
Netanyahu was also slammed after his son appearing with him in a seder video, despite the premier repeatedly urging the Israeli public in recent days not to visit family this holiday, and specifically beseeching young people not to hold the traditional meal with their elderly parents — unless they live in the same household — to prevent coronavirus infection.
In the video the 70-year-old Netanyahu was seen alongside the 25-year-old Avner Netanyahu at a seder table in the Prime Minister’s Residence as the two read from the Haggadah.
The video was apparently pre-filmed before the holiday itself, raising further questions, as Netanyahu was supposed to be in self-quarantine over the past week due to his contacts with coronavirus patients, which only ended Wednesday night.
Pundits and social media commentators claimed that in order to be with his father at the mock seder, Avner, who shares an apartment in Jerusalem with his girlfriend, would have had to break social distancing guidelines frequently cited by the prime minister in his television appearances.
Sources close to the prime minister told Channel 13’s Barak Ravid, “In the past month Avner has spent many hours a day at the Prime Minister’s Residence while sleeping in his apartment adjacent to the Prime Minister’s Residence inside the secure compound. Avner behaves according to the directives of the Health Ministry and does not go out anywhere.”
בנימין ואבנר נתניהו.
והיא שעמדה לאבותינו ולנו…
חלק 1>>>> pic.twitter.com/BKFMAhNOgB
— shlomit cohen???????????????? (@c_shlomit) April 8, 2020
But Ravid questioned what apartment was being referred to, saying he was unaware of the younger Netanyahu having another home besides the one he shares with his partner.
Regardless, many commentators said the premier was setting a bad example by holding a seder with his child after the public was compelled to avoid such gatherings.
On Friday, many commentators noted that while Rivlin had apologized, Netanyahu had not.
Meanwhile, supporters of the prime minister accused critics of looking for ways to attack him, stressing Avner, according to the family’s version, was practically living in the same household in the past weeks and thus allowed to meet with his parents.
With the lifting of the Passover curfew, Israelis could travel more than 100 meters from their homes for essential purposes only, and businesses could reopen, though it was unclear if many would do so during the holiday.
To enforce the curfew, thousands of police officers were deployed throughout Israel, backed by some 1,400 IDF soldiers helping to ensure Israelis adhered to the restrictions.