After Meeting Delayed, Israeli Cabinet Set to Debate Stricter COVID Lockdown

Judy Maltz
Judy Maltz
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Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu receiving the COVID-19 vaccine, December 2020
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu receiving the COVID-19 vaccine, December 2020Credit: Tomer Appelbaum
Judy Maltz
Judy Maltz

The Israeli cabinet is set to meet on Tuesday at 12 P.M. to discuss Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's proposal to impose a stricter coronavirus lockdown.

Netanyahu has delayed a meeting of the ministerial committee in charge of Israel's coronavirus response in a bid to secure a majority for the move. While the prime minister enjoys support from the Health Ministry and the National Security Council for the measures, Kahol Lavan ministers remain opposed to them.

The prime minister said on Monday that he plans to reconvene the cabinet in order to tighten the lockdown “in a final effort to eradicate the virus.”

How Bibi pushed a 4th election and 3rd lockdown, and how we exposed his secret flights. LISTEN

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“With millions of vaccines and a short and tight lockdown, we will save many lives and be the first ones in the world to reopen the economy,” he told ministers.

The prime minister supports a tougher lockdown which would last between seven and 10 days and include closing the entire education system, save for kindergartens, grades first through fourth, as well as grades 11th and 12th.

He also said on Monday that the cabinet has discussed providing further financial assistance to businesses affected by the coronavirus pandemic.

At the moment, Netanyahu's proposal to tighten Israel's lockdown has yet to gain a majority in the cabinet, which has prevented the ministers from convening despite the sharp rise in infection rates in recent days, but talks are ongoing.

Netanyahu's proposal would represent a compromise between the stance of Health Minister Yuli Edelstein, who seeks to close the entire education system, and the stance of Kahol Lavan ministers, who are pushing to keep schools open. Edelstein also wants to extend the two-week lockdown.  

Netanyahu seeks, in practice, to impose the lockdown directives decided by the cabinet when it last convened a week ago. But the Knesset Education Committee changed the directives a day after they had been set following pressure from Kahol Lavan. The committee eventually decided that grades fifth to 10th would return to in-person classes in "green" and "yellow" communities, where infection rates are relatively low.

Science and Technology Minister Yizhar Shai of Kahol Lavan said on Monday that Health Ministry data shows that only a negligible percentage of new COVID-19 cases are traced back to schools, explaining why he think schools  should remain open.

Alternatively, Shai proposes to limit gatherings from 2o people to up to 10 people and pass legislation in the Knesset to increase fines for violating orders, which the government had already approved.

The office of Foreign Minister Gabi Ashkenazi said in a statement that the minister is interested in hearing the position of the health system before formulating his final stance. He said, however, that he is opposed to closing the entire education system, unless a full lockdown is imposed.

Education Minister Yoav Gallant, who was against closing the education system in the past, called on the cabinet ministers to support Netanyahu's proposal. "Adopting this outline would help protect the health of the students and teaching staff while providing a suitable educational solution," according to Gallant.  

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