Netanyahu, opposition trade barbs as red cities chaos continues

Health minister makes emotional appeal to public: 'What about the rights of a citizen that has diabetes or lung disease?'

Magen David Adom workers wearing protective clothing seen outside the coronavirus unit at Shaare Zedek Medical Center, Jerusalem, September 6, 2020 (photo credit: YONATAN SINDEL/FLASH90)
Magen David Adom workers wearing protective clothing seen outside the coronavirus unit at Shaare Zedek Medical Center, Jerusalem, September 6, 2020
(photo credit: YONATAN SINDEL/FLASH90)
As the infection rate continued to spike on Monday, and chaos reigned over the status of lockdowns in “red” cities, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu tried to evade responsibility for his government’s failures, placing the blame on logistics and the Knesset opposition.
He tried to explain why the decision to place some 40 red cities under nightly curfews was delayed at least until Tuesday at 7 p.m.
“We want to prevent – or at least push off – a general closure,” Netanyahu said. “We decided to take a step back [from] locking down 40 cities.”
By law, to place even night curfews on red cities, the government is required to listen to and consult with their leaders, he said. As such, there was a need to postpone the move to complete the process.
Just before the briefing, Netanyahu sent a letter to the heads of the opposition factions in the Knesset, accusing them of “harming Israel and encouraging anarchy.”
The letter was in response to Yisrael Beytenu leader Avigdor Liberman calling on the public to “act in accordance with common sense and not in accordance with government guidelines.” But it was also addressed to opposition leader Yair Lapid, Joint List chairman Ayman Odeh and Yamina heads Naftali Bennett and Ayelet Shaked.
“I saw with worry and pain irresponsible statements by you that weaken, divide and harm the unity of the public in the fight against the coronavirus,” Netanyahu wrote. “Such dangerous and irresponsible statements by elected officials can bring about refusal to follow directives of the Health Ministry and police and, as a consequence, loss of life.”
Liberman and Lapid responded with letters of their own, saying Netanyahu had failed to deal effectively with the coronavirus crisis. Lapid said he should resign.
“We hear endless talk of closure, but what we need is order,” Liberman said Monday at his party’s faction meeting.
“It is impossible that the citizens of the State of Israel should become hostages of [Interior Minister Arye] Deri, [Housing and Construction Minister Ya’acov] Litzman and [MK Moshe] Gafni,” he said. “Coronavirus cabinet decisions are not being made on the basis of scientific data, nor are they transparent or logical.”
Liberman accused Netanyahu of sacrificing public health to ensure the stability of his coalition, and “therefore all decisions made are blatantly illegal.”
“I suggest that the public act in accordance with common sense and not in accordance with government guidelines,” he said.
Liberman called on local authorities to appoint their own coronavirus commissioners to help manage the crisis.
“The government has lost the public trust, and it does not deserve it,” he said. “The coronavirus cabinet must be abolished.”
Netanyahu was making decisions based on political considerations alone, Liberman later told N12.
“The prime minister is spreading chaos, a plague worse than corona,” he said.
President Reuven Rivlin reprimanded Liberman for his remarks.
“Calls for civil disobedience violate the principles that ensure our well-being and the peace of the entire public, especially in times of crisis,” he said. “Dealing with the coronavirus is a struggle for all of us – together.
“Leaders, opposition and coalition, please be careful what you say,” he added.
In the midst of the political fighting, the list of 40 red cities remained unclear. “Throughout the day, the professionals in the office have been checking the data of these cities,” the Health Ministry said in a statement Monday afternoon.
“The final list of cities will be published after the approval of the members of the Ministerial Committee on Declaring Restricted Zones tonight,” it said. But as of 9 p.m., that list had not surfaced.
Some of the cities expected to be on the list are Beit Shemesh, Beitar Illit, Bnei Brak, Eilat, Elad, Emmanuel, Kafr Kassem, Taiba, Tira and Umm el-Fahm.
Coronavirus commissioner Prof. Ronni Gamzu, Alternate Prime Minister Benny Gantz and Health Minister Yuli Edelstein joined Netanyahu at the evening briefing. During his remarks, Gamzu reiterated that he continues to be against a total lockdown. He also clarified once again that he does not plan to resign from his position.
“Whoever thinks I am resigning does not know me,” Gamzu said. “I am moving forward, and I will continue to do so for the citizens of Israel.”
The country would move forward with the curfew, even if it only happens several days after it was originally planned, he said.
Edelstein, in one of his more emotional appeals to the public, said: “I understand the fundamental right of all of us to pray, to protest, to get married with 1,000 guests. But what about the rights of a citizen who has diabetes or lung disease? And of those who built the country and today are older and at-risk?”
If everything is open and business goes on as usual – no masks, no restrictions – the results will be increased infection, he said. Of those who get sick, 2% end up in the hospital, and four-fifths of a percent die, he added.
“You can go in one direction, and you can go in another direction,” Edelstein said.
There were 2,234 new patients diagnosed with coronavirus on Sunday, the Health Ministry reported Monday. Out of 19,350 tests taken, 11.5% were positive. It was the highest percentage of positive tests since the start of the pandemic.
Of the sick, some 470 were in serious condition, including 139 who were intubated. Six more people have died, bringing the death toll to 1,026, the Health Ministry said.
Earlier in the day, Knesset Coronavirus Committee chairwoman Yifat Shasha-Biton (Likud) criticized the government’s efforts, calling out ministers and the Health Ministry for flip-flopping on policy and having poor communication.
“They said eight cities, and then they said, ‘No, it won’t be eight; it will be 30,’” she said at the meeting. Then there was pressure, and 30 cities became 40, she added.
“I got up this morning and found out that we were now talking about 40 cities,” Shasha-Biton said, adding that it is politics and not health data that is influencing which cities will be red.
She attacked the Health Ministry for providing “no data transparency” and questioned the criteria for determining if a person is in serious condition.
“Look the public in the eye and speak to them,” Shasha-Biton said. “Give them the facts.”