Second Netanyahu adviser accused of breaking quarantine after US trip

Reuven Azar seen shopping at supermarket last week, days after violating health rules in Washington; PM’s office says he ‘was called to order… so such incidents are not repeated’

Senior adviser to the prime minister and deputy head of the national security council Reuven Azar. (Screengrab: YouTube)
Senior adviser to the prime minister and deputy head of the national security council Reuven Azar. (Screengrab: YouTube)

A senior adviser to Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu violated quarantine after returning with the premier’s entourage from Washington last week, Hebrew media revealed Monday.

Reuven Azar, Netanyahu’s foreign policy adviser and deputy head of the National Security Council, was spotted at a supermarket in the Jerusalem suburb of Mevaseret Zion on Friday, when he was supposed to be in quarantine until Monday.

Like other members of the delegation who attended the White House signing ceremony for the normalization deals with the United Arab Emirates and Bahrain, Azar was required to quarantine for five days upon his return to Israel on Wednesday. He is the second member of the delegation to be accused of breaking quarantine, after social media adviser Topaz Luk was spotted Sunday night outside the Prime Minister’s Residence.

Travelers from the United States and other countries with high COVID-19 infection rates are required to self-isolate for 14 days, but members of the delegation were granted a shorter quarantine period despite having reportedly broken agreed-upon health guidelines during the trip.

Azar’s breaking of quarantine was first reported by the Haaretz daily.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu applauds before a lunch in the State Dining Room of the White House after a signing ceremony for the Abraham Accords on the South Lawn of the White House, September 15, 2020, in Washington. (AP/Alex Brandon)

Following the reports, Netanyahu’s office said a “clarification” was held with Azar. It asserted he wasn’t updated about the Health Ministry’s determination that the premier and his aides were required to quarantine, after the Prime Minister’s Office said they would instead begin adhering to the countrywide lockdown rules before they took effect on Friday.

“Azar was called to order by his superiors so such incidents are not repeated,” the PMO said in a statement to Hebrew media.

While in Washington, Azar also violated the coronavirus regulations of the Prime Minister’s Office by leaving the hotel where the Israeli delegation was staying in Washington.

The Israeli delegation was under strict rules that included maintaining small groups, called capsules, and not leaving the premises of the hotel so that they would not be required to self-quarantine upon their return from the United States.

The reports that Azar broke the five-day isolation period came hours after Luk, who also traveled to Washington, was accused of violating quarantine while scoping out a protest against the premier in Jerusalem on Sunday.

One of the groups leading the ongoing anti-Netanyahu protests accused Luk and Ofer Golan, the Netanyahu family’s spokesman, of coming to the rally to film an alleged group of coronavirus deniers as part of efforts to discredit the demonstrations.

Netanyahu’s Likud party claimed that Luk had been walking on his way to get tested at the Prime Minister’s Office, a building about 1 mile (1.6 kilometers) away.

“Topaz Luk arrived to perform a coronavirus test in Jerusalem in accordance with the instructions he received from the Health Ministry upon his return from the delegation to Washington and afterwards returned to his home,” it said in a statement

Topaz Luk, left, and Ofer Golan are seen at a protest against Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu near his official residence in Jerusalem on September 21, 2020. (Screen capture: Twitter)

Despite Likud’s assertion that Luk was going to take a COVID-19 test, the Kan public broadcaster said he was tested at 9:30 p.m., an hour before he was seen with a camera at the protest.

A police complaint was filed against Luk for allegedly violating quarantine.

Coronavirus czar speaks during a Health Ministry briefing on September 3, 2020. (Screen capture/Health Ministry livestream)

Ronni Gamzu, the official leading the government’s response to the coronavirus pandemic, was asked whether the Health Ministry intended to punish Luk. Those violating quarantine can be hit with a NIS 5,000 ($1,450) fine and up to six months in prison.

“It doesn’t matter who the person. Breaking quarantine is a very grave violation, [it can] perhaps even spread disease,” Gamzu told the Ynet news site. “There’s also a criminal punishment for this. There won’t be any discount here. Public figures are like the entire nation, everyone is the same.”

Israel imposed a national lockdown on Friday, with new far-reaching restrictions to curb Israel’s surging outbreak.

According to the latest Health Ministry figures, 188,760 people have contracted COVID-19 since the pandemic began, including 51,503 with active infections.

The ministry said 651 patients were in serious condition, with 160 on ventilators.

Four more deaths announced Monday morning brought the toll to 1,260.

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