Is Netanyahu blocking quarantine of US travelers to avoid angering Trump?

Authorities insist quarantine decisions not political, based on medical considerations.

US President Donald Trump unveils his Middle East peace plan together with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in the White House on January 28, 2020 (photo credit: REUTERS)
US President Donald Trump unveils his Middle East peace plan together with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in the White House on January 28, 2020
(photo credit: REUTERS)
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu blocked the Health Ministry’s plan to quarantine Israelis returning from several US states in order not to hurt the US-Israel relationship, several media outlets reported on Sunday.
The Prime Minister’s Office declined to answer whether political and diplomatic considerations were part of the decision-making process on quarantines.
Netanyahu wants to avoid angering US president Donald Trump and has, therefore, not allowed the Health Ministry to order people entering Israel after being in New York, California and Washington State to go into isolation, according to Hebrew media outlets.
The prime minister is expected to make a decision on the matter ahead of a Health Ministry press briefing at 7 p.m. on Sunday.
Government figures pushed back against claims that decisions about which travelers to quarantine in light of the novel coronavirus outbreak are based on political and diplomatic concerns.
Health Ministry Director-General Moshe Bar Siman-Tov said on Saturday night that the ministry was examining the possibility of sending people who arrived in Israel from Washington state, New York and California, where COVID-19 has spread, into isolation, but by Sunday, Army Radio reported that the decision was frozen.
Asked about the reversal, Tourism Minister Yariv Levin told Army Radio that "such a decision has internal significance in the US. It is important to act in cooperation with the Americans on this matter."
Levin clarified to The Jerusalem Post that he was not referring to political considerations.
“I think the decisions are professional, but we are trying to coordinate with the Americans on matters connected to them,” Levin said. “It’s good to coordinate. They’re not just any country. We shouldn’t announce we’re taking this step without talking to them.”
Levin also denied a theory floated by some pundits that the Health Ministry waited until after the AIPAC Policy Conference ended to announce that people attending international conferences have to be quarantined, because of its importance in US-Israel relations.
Bar Siman Tov told Channel 12 on Saturday night that “to this day, no political element was part of our decision-making process … All the decisions go to the National Security Council and the prime minister in the end. It’s a professional discussion on protecting the public. No foreign interests are involved in the decisions.”
A source in the Health Ministry said that AIPAC is one of many important international events and that it has not received special treatment. He cited OECD conferences that senior government figures will not be able to attend because of the precautions against catching the novel coronavirus.
“We are not influenced whatsoever by foreign relations or political considerations,” he said.
When Israel stopped flights from China, the Foreign Ministry pushed back against the decision, because of its importance, and there was an uproar over doing the same with Thailand, Italy and Spain, some of the most popular tourist destinations for Israelis, but the decision was based entirely on health considerations, he said.
“People said we went crazy, but we were right,” the source said.
Quarantining arrivals from parts of the US would entail a major logistical undertaking because of the large number of flights, including keeping track of who is in isolation and having MDA test people.
The source explained that the ministry has to draw a line at some point for people who arrived from countries where there is an outbreak, and chooses a date based on risk assessment and logistical considerations.
People who returned a day or two before that line may wonder why they are not quarantined, and it would be a good idea for them to isolate themselves, the source said.