Tiff between Netanyahu, Gantz on media picked up on hot mic

Footage shows defense minister angrily protesting after not being allowed to speak to reporters at start of cabinet meeting; PM said Gantz would ‘speak later, not now’

From left to right: Defense Minister Benny Gantz, the prime minister's chief of staff Asher Hayoun, and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu at the weekly cabinet meeting, at the Foreign Ministry in Jerusalem on June 28, 2020. (Olivier Fitoussi/Flash90)
From left to right: Defense Minister Benny Gantz, the prime minister's chief of staff Asher Hayoun, and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu at the weekly cabinet meeting, at the Foreign Ministry in Jerusalem on June 28, 2020. (Olivier Fitoussi/Flash90)

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Defense Minister Benny Gantz butted heads at the opening of Sunday’s cabinet meeting over their comments to the press, in a heated exchange caught on a hot mic.

Some 15 minutes before the cabinet meeting began, Gantz told Netanyahu’s staff he wanted to say a few words to the media after the premier speaks, as he has done occasionally in the past few weeks, according to footage obtained and aired by Channel 12.

But when Netanyahu finished speaking at the opening of the session, his associates told the journalists present that the public part of the meeting was over and they should leave.

Gantz looked angrily at Netanyahu’s chief of staff Asher Hayoun, who replied: “He [presumably another staffer] only told me now [that you want to speak].”

Gantz answered: “What do you mean he told you now? I said it 15 minutes ago.”

Hayoun then whispered to Netanyahu: “He told me he wanted to speak for a minute,” and the premier interjected: “He will speak later, not now.” Gantz, still visibly angry, then said: “No, no, I understand, it’s fine.”

The footage ended with Netanyahu telling Gantz he had been told Gantz wanted to speak at the opening of the so-called coronavirus cabinet meeting, a separate panel of ministers overseeing the government response to the pandemic.

The journalists were eventually brought back into the meeting after Gantz objected to his comments not being public.

He then responded to earlier comments by Netanyahu, who had addressed the controversial arrest of a former top general and two others while protesting outside of the Prime Minister’s Residence on Saturday.

“Freedom to demonstrate, is, in my opinion, a sacred right,” Gantz said in his comments. “Everyone who sits at this table believes in it. We must of course on the one hand allow people to continue to demonstrate, and on the other give backing to the Israel Police and the rule of law.”

Netanyahu then countered that any charge that he wished to limit protests was “absurd.”

“Freedom of demonstration is not at stake. In the toughest of moments, at the height of the lockdown, we allowed it. The claims we want to limit it are absurd. I do not interfere with police decisions,” Netanyahu said. “The condemnation of rioters should be equal on all parts of the political spectrum.”

Three men were arrested Friday during a demonstration against government corruption outside the Prime Minister’s Residence in the capital. The three were ordered unconditionally released from police custody early Sunday.

Police had sought restraining orders against former air force brig. gen. (res.) Amir Haskel and fellow protesters Gil Danieli and Saadi Ben Sheetrit to ban them from Jerusalem for at least 15 days.

Brig. Gen. (Res.) Amir Haskel (second from left) and two other protesters at Jerusalem Magistrate’s Court Hearing onJune 27, 2020, after they were arrested during a protest outside Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s official Jerusalem residence. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

But at a late-night hearing that stretched beyond midnight Saturday, Jerusalem Magistrate’s Court judge Orna Sandler-Eitan said banning them from Jerusalem would amount to a muzzle on free speech and ordered their release without conditions.

A police representative admitted to the judge that Haskel, 66, had not been actively blocking roads, but said he had organized the protest and thus was responsible for other demonstrators doing so, according to the Haaretz daily. The representative said police had handled the protesters with kid gloves.

The demonstration was part of ongoing “black flag” anti-corruption protests against Netanyahu, who is standing trial in a series of graft cases.

Netanyahu faces charges of fraud and breach of trust in three cases, as well as bribery in one of them. He has denied wrongdoing and says the charges are part of an effort by political opponents, the media, law enforcement and prosecutors to remove him from office.

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