The policy adviser to Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, Reuven Azar, violated Health Ministry quarantine orders to go grocery shopping on Friday morning, witnesses told Haaretz.
Azar was seen shopping at a supermarket in the Jerusalem suburb of Mevasseret Zion at about 11:35 A.M. Friday. He accompanied Netanyahu on his trip to the White House last week, where Israel officially normalized ties with the United Arab Emirates and Bahrain. According to the ministry orders, delegation members were obligated to remain in quarantine until Monday, or until their coronavirus test results come back negative.
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The Prime Minister's Office said that they are "clarifying" Azar's situation. "The Health Ministry's announcement about changing the lockdown regulations and quarantine arrived late Thursday night, and he was not updated and regrets it," the statement said. It added that Azar has been reprimanded so that "this situation does not happen again."
The Health Ministry announced on Thursday that all members of the Washington delegation, without exception, were required to quarantine until Monday, a five-day quarantine rather than the typical 14-day span.
The news comes after Netanyahu's social media adviser, Topaz Luk, was filmed on Sunday at an anti-government protest near the premier's official residence in Jerusalem. Luk was also a member of the delegation that needed to quarantine upon their return from Washington.
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Netanyahu's Likud party said Luk was only present for a coronavirus test, and then returned home. However, the tests conducted for members of the delegation to Washington were done in a drive-through facility at the Prime Minister's Office, and did not require those being tested to leave their vehicles. Luk was filmed near the Prima Kings Hotel, which is roughly 2.5 kilometers (1.5 miles) away from the Prime Minister's Office. Furthermore, the office said Luk was tested at 9:30 P.M., an hour before he was present at the protest at 10:30 P.M. Protest activist Gonen Ben Itzkak submitted a police complaint alleging that Luk had violated his quarantine.
Luk said in response that the instructions he was given changed a few times but admitted that regardless he "should have been more careful," adding "I apologize that they used me as a battering ram against the Prime Minister and in any case I will pay the fine on my own initiative."
Luk was seen walking at the protest with Netanyahu's media adviser, Ofer Golan, and filming a group of coronavirus deniers. According to the youth movement Rise Up Israel, whose members took part in the anti-government protest in Jerusalem, Luk "staged an anti-coronavirus protest as part of the inciting, false campaign against 'disease spreaders,' a campaign that led to an attempted car ramming of protesters."
Confronted with the issue in cabinet by Strategic Affairs Minister Orit Farkash-Hacohen, a member of rival party turned coalition partner Kahol Lavan, Benjamin Netanyahu said, "Suddenly you all gang up on one guy."
"Anyone who violates isolation should be fined, but there cannot be selective enforcement," Netanyahu added. He regularly makes the case that he and members of his family are unjustly targeted by law enforcement and the media.
The Israel Police responded to the inquiries about Luk in a statement, saying that the matter had been passed on to the relevant authorities for investigation. “If it is found that the subject of the investigation violated Health Ministry instructions, it will be handled according to the law,” the statement said.
Following the Haaretz reports of quarantine violations by Netanyahu aides, Meretz Chairman Nitzan Horowitz sent an urgent query to Public Security Minister Amir Ohana, of Likud, regarding the lack of enforcement for quarantine orders among Netanyahu's Washington delegation, who he said "knowingly endangered the public's health, but nothing has been done about it."