FACT CHECK: Netanyahu Gave a Rare Interview. Here Are Eight Lies He Told

From blaming Gantz for Israel's COVID deaths to the PM's corruption trial and ties with the United Arab List – Haaretz fact-checks Netanyahu's claims ahead of the March election

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Yonit Levi interviews Netanyahu for Channel 12 News, yesterday.
Yonit Levi interviews Netanyahu for Channel 12 News, yesterday.

In an unusual move, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu gave an interview to Channel 12 News on Monday, 35 days ahead of Israel's March 23 election. Haaretz fact-checked and found some of the prime minister's remarks were false.

Israel's third nationwide lockdown

When news anchor Yonit Levi asked the prime minister about the handling of the coronavirus crisis, Netanyahu said: “When the World Health Organization announced there was a problem with the British strain, I convened the cabinet by phone from the recovery room after getting my first shot, and said: Now we are shutting down [everything]."

The facts: Netanyahu received his first dose of the vaccine on December 19. The first restrictions as part of the third lockdown were imposed over a week later, on December 27.

Placing the blame on Gantz

Yonit Levi: “You said that [Defense Minister] Benny Gantz has blood on his hands because he delayed the lockdown by two days from what you wanted.”

Netanyahu: “I didn’t say that. The main thing was to enter the lockdowns on time and not too late, and the cry to open as soon as possible has clearly raised the number of news cases by thousands.”

The facts: Netanyahu told Gantz that "the blood of many Israelis will be on your hands" in the cabinet meeting in which exiting the lockdown was discussed.

State budget

Netanyahu: “Israel has a state budget; it's a one-year budget. We passed a budget – 413 billion shekels ($128 billion). You're constantly saying that Israel doesn't have a budget, there is a budget. 413 billion shekels is our budget for 2021.”

The facts: Israel does not have a state budget for 2021, nor did it have one in 2020. The last budget was approved in 2018 for 2019. In December, the Knesset passed legislation that allows the government to make limited changes to the old budget, according to which it is operating.

On December 23, the Knesset dissolved as the legally mandated deadline to pass Israel's 2020 state budget expired, triggering a fourth election cycle in less than two years.

Netanyahu sought to pass a one-year budget and Gantz insisted on passing a two-year budget. After the Knesset dissolved and election was called, both Netanyahu's Likud and Gantz's Kahol Lavan accused each other of politicizing the process.   

Closing Israel's borders

Netanyahu: “I closed the skies and [our] maritime and overland borders almost hermetically. We are currently allowing up to 2,000 Israelis to return [every day]. No other country has done this.”

The facts: As part of their fight against the coronavirus, many countries imposed restrictions on entering their territory before Israel did.

While Ben-Gurion Airport was closed during the last week of January as part of its third lockdown, New Zealand had sealed its borders to foreigners in March 2020. New Zealanders who returned home were required to enter two-week quarantine in a state-run facility.

Currently, New Zealand has almost no cases of COVID-19. Other countries that closed their borders before Israel include Angola, Myanmar, Libya, Madagascar and Algeria – and this is just a partial list.

Mandatory quarantine for Israelis returning from the UAE

Yonit Levi: "Sharon Alroy-Preis, head of the Health Ministry's public health department, said [referring to the Israelis returning from the UAE] that 'back in November we looked at the percentage of confirmed cases, multiplied the numbers of people expected to return [from the UAE], and wanted to label it as a red country.'"

"It didn’t happen because we needed to celebrate the fruits of peace?” Levi asked.

Netanyahu: “No, it simply wasn’t red. When it became red – we made it red.”

The facts: The Foreign Ministry did not designate the UAE as red, despite the position of  the Health Ministry, out of a fear of causing a diplomatic incident with a country that has just recently opened its borders to Israelis after the normalization of ties between both nations.

Labor Chairwoman Merav Michaeli and army service

Netanyahu: “Why don’t you ask [Yesh atid leader] Yair Lapid how he intends to form a coalition with [Ibtisam Mara'ana], who has secured the seventh slot on Labor's roster and who refuses to stand for the siren on Memorial Day? Or with Merav Michaeli who urges people not to serve in the Israel Defense Forces?”

The facts: In 2010, when she hosted a radio show on Army Radio, Michaeli referred to the negotiations to free Gilad Shalit – who was then held captive in Gaza by Hamas and released in 2011 – saying that “women don’t need to send their children to the army, when the government in Israel is not making efforts … They need to stop being willing to send their children to the army at all costs.

Later Michaeli clarified her remarks and said: I'm definitely not calling to refuse to serve in the IDF, after all I myself served in the army.”

Netanyahu's corruption trial

Netanyahu: "The State Prosecutor’s Office is trying to pressure the judges to move to the evidentiary stage before the election so there will blatant intervention in the election. They are bringing their most provocative witnesses, while we cannot bring our defense witnesses.”

The facts: The date of the election was determined after the dissolution of the Knesset on December 22. The head of the three-judge panel in Netanyahu's corruption cases ruled back in July 2020 that the evidentiary stage would begin in January 2021.

At the end of November, the judges announced that the evidentiary hearings would be postponed to February because of Netanyahu’s defense attorneys’ request to discuss what they claimed were flaws in the indictment.

In a court hearing last week, the judges decided that the evidentiary phase of the trial will begin only after they rule on Netanyahu's claim that the attorney general did not approve in advance the investigation against the prime minister.

Netanyahu is charged with bribery, fraud and breach of trust in three cases.

Cooperation with United Arab List

Netanyahu: “I will not rely on [the support of] anyone who opposes Zionism, in any way. I am competing with Mansour Abbas for the votes, he is my rival,” Netanyahu said in reference to the chairman of the United Arab List, one of the factions that comprised the Joint List alliance of Arab parties but decided to run alone in the March election after a prolonged period of disagreements.

The facts: Netanyahu, who often attacked his rivals for their willingness to cooperate with the Joint List, bolstered his cooperation with lawmaker Mansour Abbas.

Netanyahu tightened relations with Abbas, hoping that UAL members will help blocking legislation that would prevent him from forming a government in the future.

This joins the selection of Matanyahu Englman as state comptroller, which was attributed to the defection of UAL members from opposition ranks; Abbas’ support for the cancellation of the vote he conducted in which the establishment of a commission of inquiry into the so-called "submarine affair"  was approved; and the absence of UAL lawmakers from the vote on dissolving the Knesset in December, as part of its talks with Likud.

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