Prime Minister Naftali Bennett and Strategic Planning Minister Eli Avidar engaged in a shouting match at Sunday’s cabinet meeting over the government’s decision to enable the Shin Bet (Israel Security Agency) to track people exposed to the COVID-19 Omicron variant.
Avidar pointed out that the new head of the Shin Bet, Ronen Bar, was deputy head when opposition leader Benjamin Netanyahu was prime minister and opposed such surveillance in that government. Now that he is the head, he suddenly is enamored with this tool, Avidar said.
“Who are you to say that?” Bennett shouted at Avidar. “You cannot smear the head of the Shin Bet.”
Avidar responded that he would say what he wants to say, and later in the meeting said the decision projected hysteria. Avidar was joined in voting against the decision by Justice Minister Gideon Sa’ar (New Hope), Education Minister Yifat Shasha-Biton (New Hope), Environmental Protection Minister Tamar Zandberg (Meretz), and Regional Cooperation Minister Esawi Frej (Meretz).
“We promised change, so how can we look our voters in the eye when we grossly violate promise after promise to maintain our democracy?” Avidar said in a statement after the meeting. “This crosses a red line because it symbolizes everything that was wrong in Netanyahu’s government.”
Even before Bennett started pushing for Shin Bet surveillance, Avidar attacked him at a cultural event in Tzur Hadassah on Saturday, saying Bennett was not meeting his potential, and that the state of democracy was not better than it was under Netanyahu.
Avidar also threatened to punish Bennett if he does not permit the passage of a bill that would prevent a candidate under indictment from forming a government.
Political sources said Avidar was angry that Bennett was not advancing the plans he drew up at his Strategic Planning Ministry. Avidar is also upset that he is not being promoted, which could happen if a current minister becomes head of the Jewish Agency.
The Jewish Agency chairmanship selection committee is scheduled to meet on Tuesday afternoon. Alternate Prime Minister Yair Lapid is set to announce the government’s candidate for the plum post by then, after twice delaying his decision.
Whoever Lapid picks will join the eight current candidates. The final decision will be made by the agency’s Board of Governors in February.
“Some members of the committee are losing patience,” said a source involved in the process. “They want to move forward. If Lapid has a candidate, they will consider him as part of the process, but they won’t stop it.”