Israel's Health Minister Officially Offers His Resignation Amid Criticism of Coronavirus Response

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recently resigned Health Minister Yaakov Litzman, November 24, 2019.
recently resigned Health Minister Yaakov Litzman, November 24, 2019. Credit: Emil Salman

Israel’s Health Minister Yaakov Litzman has officially announced to Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu his resignation after over a decade in the ministry, saying that he will instead seek the housing portfolio. 

A statement released on Sunday by Litzman states that "in parallel with the implementation of the exit strategy from the coronavirus crisis in Israel, and in preparation for the establishment of a new government, I decided not to return to the Health Ministry, preferring to lead a broad solution to the housing crisis in Israel."

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According to Litzman, he "feels satisfied with the policies that [his administration] has led during the coronavirus crisis,” adding that he is “proud of the current state of the health system,” promising Israelis that “it is strong and stable."

Litzman, who has held the post of deputy health minister and health minister almost continuously since 2009, was heavily criticized for his handling of the coronavirus crisis. In its early stages, he excluded the ultra-Orthodox community from the country’s social distancing regulations, allowing public ritual bath houses and synagogues to remain open, even promising that the messiah would come and put an end to the epidemic.

The possibility of Litzman leading the Housing Ministry had arisen throughout coalition negotiations between Likud and the right-wing bloc and Kahol Lavan. Among associates of the Gerrer Rebbe, the Hassidic sect’s leader, views on the matter conflicted. Some supported Litzman continuing in his role at the health ministry, but others believed his time there had run its course, and that he could better aid the ultra-Orthodox public from within the Housing Ministry.

An official close to Litzman said last week that "during his term, it was clear that Litzman would not leave office, but now with the establishment of a new government the issue has once again come to the table." The Health Minister, who contracted the coronavirus himself, thought he could not leave the post during the crisis, but the possibility arose when he thought control over the spread of the virus was achieved.

Earlier this month, Litzman himself contracted the coronavirus, together with his wife. Following his diagnosis, Netanyahu, Health Ministry director general Moshe Bar Siman Tov and head of the ministry’s public health services Professor Seigal Sadetzky all entered self-quarantine.

Litzman reportedly did not adhere to the public safety guidelines that his own ministry issued. He reportedly prayed in a group, refused to have his temperature taken and hid the results of the epidemiological test performed on his phone. Litzman denied the reports of people who said they had prayed with him.

In August the police recommended indicting Litzman for bribery, suborning witnesses, fraud and breach of trust in two cases.

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