Israel's Environmental Protection Minister Gila Gamliel, who announced that she had tested positive for the coronavirus overnight Saturday, hid the fact that she violated lockdown restrictions and visited a synagogue on Yom Kippur from Health Ministry officials.
Sources told Haaretz that Gamliel refused to respond to Health Ministry investigators for hours, and when she eventually did, she intentionally misled them by falsely claiming that she was infected by her driver.
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According to government restrictions, prayer in synagogues is allowed only within a one kilometer radius from one's home. Gamliel lives in north Tel Aviv but prayed at a synagogue in Tiberius, 150 kilometers (93 miles) from Tel Aviv. In addition, Haaretz found that the Likud minister was visiting her in-laws during the holiday, which is also a violation of government restrictions.
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said on Monday "the right thing do right now would be to wait before [drawing] any conclusions."
Speaking ahead of a meeting of the ministerial committee on the coronavirus crisis, Netanyahu stressed "everyone... including ministers and Knesset members, all public servants" are required to abide by the government's regulations, but said: "I suggest we wait. Very soon we'll have the full picture."
Likud lawmaker Miki Zohar told Kan public broadcaster Gamliel, or any political leaders in violation of COVID-19 regulations, "should apologize, and if needed also pay a price," without specifying what he means.
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Zohar refused to say whether he thinks Gamliel sohuld be fired.
On Monday, Gamliel said she and her husband decided before the lockdown began to spend the period of the High Holy Days in Tiberias, and that her synagogue visit was done in accordance with official guidelines. "However, I understand that in this period in which there is great importance in maintaining public trust in government instructions, it's possible I made an error in judgment and that there was room to act differently," she said. "I'd like to apologize to the public for that, and declare that I will pay the necessary fine."
Gamliel's office also issued a statement Monday emphasizing that her conduct was in line with the regulations, and that "contrary to allegations and unfounded lies, the minister fully cooperated with the Health Ministry's epidemiological investigation."
Coronavirus proctor Ronni Gamzu told Army Radio said Gamliel's behavior "was extraordinary for a public figure who should lead by personal example, hurts the public trust, warrants an investigation and appropriate steps to be taken in response."
Gamliel is reported to have told the health officials that she had been infected by her driver, but the investigation revealed that her close family members, who also tested positive, never came into contact with the driver. Later, Gamliel finally admitted that she had visited a synagogue with her family on Yom Kippur, and officials are continuing their investigation into who may also have been infected there.
Gamliel announced on Twitter overnight Saturday that she has tested positive for the coronavirus and that she was feeling well.
According to political sources, in the hours preceding her announcement, she avoided attempts made by health officials to contact her for the purpose of carrying out their contact tracing investigation and ordering those that came into contact with her to self-isolate and receive testing, and only became reachable eight hours later.
Gamliel is not the first member of Netanyahu's circle to violate coronavirus restrictions. In September, two of Netanyahu's advisers, social media adviser Topaz Luk, and policy adviser Reuven Azar, violated mandatory quarantine after returning from Washington D.C..
Gamliel's office said Sunday that the report was "another attempt to harm Likud members through lies and pathetic fabrications. The minister is fully cooperating with the epidemiological investigation and assisting the Health Ministry in whatever is required."