Shin Bet chief apologizes for violating COVID-19 restrictions by hosting family

Nadav Argaman says he takes ‘full responsibility’ for his daughter and his wife’s daughter’s family visiting his home on holiday despite lockdown

Judah Ari Gross is The Times of Israel's religions and Diaspora affairs correspondent.

Head of Shin Bet security service Nadav Argaman attends a Foreign Affairs and Defense committee meeting in the Knesset, July 12, 2016. (Miriam Alster/FLASH90)
Head of Shin Bet security service Nadav Argaman attends a Foreign Affairs and Defense committee meeting in the Knesset, July 12, 2016. (Miriam Alster/FLASH90)

The head of the Shin Bet security service apologized on Thursday for violating the national lockdown by hosting members of his family who do not permanently live in his home during the Sukkot holiday.

“The head of the service [Nadav] Argaman apologizes for the incident and takes full responsibility,” he said in a statement released by the agency, confirming that he had violated the regulations.

On Tuesday night, the Kan public broadcaster broke the story about Argaman’s actions. The Shin Bet, which runs a contentious cellphone tracking program the government uses to track coronavirus outbreaks, initially refrained from commenting on the matter, saying it did not discuss agents’ private lives.

On Thursday, after Argaman returned from a two-day trip abroad, the service confirmed general aspects of the report, but said that some details of the story were incorrect.

According to the Shin Bet, the only visitors that came the house were Argaman’s daughter, and his wife’s daughter and the daughter’s husband and child, whom his wife watches during the week in accordance with coronavirus regulations — not other family members.

The service also denied a detail in the report that Argaman’s daughter lives far away from him. According to the agency, she is currently serving in the military and splits her time between Argaman’s house and that of her mother.

In the statement, the Shin Bet said that it had been over a month and a half since Argaman’s daughter had been to his home. The agency also noted that the illicit gathering took place outdoors.

Police told Kan they would “look into” the report.

Before the start of the Sukkot holiday, the government approved fines of NIS 500 ($145) for anyone caught with someone not of their household in a sukkah not their own. The ban on visiting another person’s sukkah is set to remain in force for two days after the festival ends. Similar fines are in place for visiting others’ homes during the lockdown.

Argaman’s reported violation of coronavirus regulations was the latest in a string of cases of leading Israeli officials who have violated the rules enforced on the general public or have been accused of doing so.

Environmental Protection Minister Gila Gamliel attends a Knesset Economy Committee debate on bottle deposits, September 14, 2020.

Environmental Protection Minister Gila Gamliel, who announced last weekend that she had been infected with the coronavirus, faced calls for her dismissal or resignation Monday after confessing that last week she broke a lockdown limit by traveling from her Tel Aviv home to the northern city of Tiberias.

She also reportedly tried to hide the trip from a Health Ministry epidemiological investigation into her infection.

Yesh Atid leader Yair Lapid announced on Monday that MK Mickey Levy will resign from the Knesset’s Coronavirus Committee “by joint agreement” after violating the lockdown rules.

Interior Minister Aryeh Deri on Tuesday denied accusations that he had broken virus regulations by traveling from his Jerusalem home to be in the northern city of Tiberias for the recent Yom Kippur holiday. Deri claimed that someone was spreading the false accusation among journalists.

Interior Minister Aryeh Deri in the Knesset building, on March 3, 2020. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

In September, a senior adviser to Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, Reuven Azar, violated the coronavirus regulations of the Prime Minister’s Office by leaving a hotel where the Israeli delegation was staying in Washington ahead of the normalization accords with Bahrain and the UAE.

Azar made headlines again upon his return to Israel after he was spotted at a supermarket in the Jerusalem suburb of Mevaseret Zion while he was supposed to be in quarantine.

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

In April, President Reuven Rivlin 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 similar to current regulations that forbade family gatherings.

The report on Rivlin followed news that Netanyahu himself had shared his festive meal with his son Avner, prompting outrage that top leaders were flouting their own rules while millions of ordinary Israelis were making sacrifices.

Times of Israel staff contributed to this report.

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