‘We don’t know if rotation will happen’ says FM amid political tension

Ashkenazi was speaking in the wake of the resignation of Tourism Minister Asaf Zamir on Friday.

Israel's new Foreign Minister Gabi Ashkenazi (photo credit: MIRIAM ALSTER/FLASH90)
Israel's new Foreign Minister Gabi Ashkenazi
(photo credit: MIRIAM ALSTER/FLASH90)
Amid mounting political instability and the resignation of a government minister over the prime minister’s handling of the COVID-19 crisis, Foreign Minister Gabi Ashkenazi said threats by the premier about elections were a threat to the public, not the Blue and White party.
Ashkenazi was speaking following the resignation of Tourism Minister Asaf Zamir on Friday, who said again Saturday night that the coronavirus epidemic in Israel could not be resolved until Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu leaves office because of his focus on political concerns.
Speaking on the Channel 12 Meet the Press program Saturday night, Ashkenazi said he did not know if, due to the severe political tension between Netanyahu’s Likud party and Blue and White if party leader and Alternate Prime Minister Benny Gantz would actually get to take over as prime minister next year, as stipulated in the rotation clause of the coalition agreement.
“If we feel that we can no longer influence [matters] that is a red line,” said Ashkenazi.
“If Netanyahu wants elections that is not a threat against us, it is a threat against the public, he continued in reference to the severe health crisis the country is experiencing, and accusing Netanyahu of acting against political unity.
“We don’t know what will happen in another month or two, I don't know if the rotation will happen, and don’t know what to answer.”
The foreign minister also defended his party’s decision to advance the appointment process for a new state attorney and to seek to advance the appointment of a new chief of police despite Netanyahu’s opposition to this process without a joint committee.
Gantz issued a statement on Friday saying he had told Justice Minister Avi Nissenkorn to start the appointment process for the state attorney and said his party would advance the process for a new police chief, who is appointed by the minister for internal security, currently Netanyahu ally Amir Ohana.
Gantz said he was doing so because of “the lack of stability” and the “lack of control” in the management of the coronavirus “requires the restoration of government order.”
The Blue and White leader said he had accepted Zamir’s resignation with “understanding and pain,” and appeared to agree with the outgoing minister’s sentiment towards the prime minister when saying that the public’s crisis of confidence in the government was due to “a real concern stemming from the fact that dealing with political concerns is trumping concern for public health and livelihoods of millions of homes who are trembling over their fate and work.”
Speaking on Channel 13 on Saturday night, Zamir said Netanyahu was responsible for “90 percent of the problems and failures” in dealing with the COVID-19 crisis, and was “responsible for the failure in which we don’t have a budget, [and] responsible for the state of the health system after a decade of budgetary neglect.”
Zamir said of Netanyahu that “despite the fact the whole country is on fire, and internal [medicine] wards are collapsing, and businesses cannot make ends meet, the majority of the time he is dealing with the protests against him.”
Netanyahu ally and coalition chairman, Likud MK Miki Zohar, called on the prime minister to dismantle the government and call new elections in an interview with the ultra-Orthodox news site Kikar Shabbat, saying that the partnership with Blue and White was not working.
Zamir became the first Blue and White minister to quit Netanyahu’s government on Friday, a step which raised speculation that elections could be on the horizon.
Following Zamir’s resignation, Gantz announced that he will appoint Orit Farkash Hacohen as the new tourism minister instead of her current role as minister of strategic affairs
Zamir voted against the last two packages of coronavirus regulations in the government and had come under tremendous pressure from protest movements to resign.
Zamir met with Gantz on Friday and told him he had to resign because he had no faith in Netanyahu.
“The coronavirus crisis is at best a secondary priority for the prime minister,” he said. “The personal and legal considerations are what interests Netanyahu, and this has been clear from every step he has taken.”
He wrote on Facebook that he did not believe that Israel could end its coronavirus crisis as long as Netanyahu remains prime minister.
The outgoing minister said he would remain loyal to the party and to Gantz, who he called a leader who “puts the people of Israel above all considerations.”
Zamir is a former deputy mayor of Tel Aviv, who ran unsuccessfully for mayor before joining Blue and White.
The Black Flag protest movement issued a statement praising Zamir for his resignation, calling it a “courageous step.” The movement called on the rest of Blue and White MKs to “stand for democracy like he did.”
Last week, Science and Technology Minister Yizhar Shay also contemplated resigning but was persuaded not to by Gantz.
“Asaf Zamir didn’t only resign, he laid out a serious indictment before all those who remain in the government a minute longer and continue to keep Netanyahu in power. Gantz and Ashkenazi – you are not serving the State of Israel, you are serving Netanyahu. It’s time to resign,” Leader of the Opposition, Yair Lapid said in regard to Zamir’s resignation.
Yesh Atid MK Ofer Shelah said Zamir’s departure is the “first brick in Netanyahu’s wall falling.” He promised that more Blue and White ministers would follow.
Likud responded by accusing Zamir of resigning for his own political reasons. He is expected to run again for Tel Aviv mayor in the next election.
“Zamir is running away from the battle just in order to gain some votes in Tel Aviv,” the Likud said. “It is Zamir who is engaging in petty politics while the prime minister is fighting around the clock to save the lives and the livelihood of the citizens of Israel.”
In a second statement, Likud said that Blue and White needs to decide whether “it is fighting the virus or the government.”
The three ministers who voted against the new directives limiting protests against Netanyahu were Zamir, Shay and Farkash-Hacohen. Asked why she voted against, a spokesman for Farkash-Hacohen said it did not have to do with the protests but with economic issues.
“She doesn’t agree with the economic part of the plan, and thinks the damage to the economy is much greater than what the plan achieves,” her spokesperson said.