Netanyahu Accuses Rivals of Stirring Anarchy as Coronavirus Crisis Deepens

Premier's letter to opposition lawmakers follows call by Lieberman to flout government instructions regarding pandemic

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Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu at the IDF Home Front Command base, September 7, 2020.
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu at the IDF Home Front Command base, September 7, 2020. Credit: Tomer Appelbaum
Bar Peleg
Bar Peleg

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu accused opposition lawmakers Monday of “undermining public unity” in the battle against the coronavirus in a letter sent to opposition leader Yair Lapid and Knesset members Naftali Bennett, Avigdor Lieberman and Ayman Odeh.

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The letter followed comments from former Defense Minister Avigdor Lieberman earlier Monday, who called on the public to disregard the government’s coronavirus directives, saying that it has failed to manage the crisis.

"I recommend that the public behave not in accordance to the government directives, but according to common sense," he said. "Netanyahu sacrificed public health on the altar of keeping the coalition together, and therefore any decision that is made is patently illegal." President Reuven Rivlin and Health Minister Yuli Edelstein later denounced Lieberman's remarks. 

Netanyahu wrote: “With regret and concern, I have seen your irresponsible statements, which weaken, divide and undermine public unity in the battle against the coronavirus. Dangerous and irresponsible statements by public representatives can lead to non-compliance with the guidelines of the Health Ministry and the police – and result in the loss of human life.”

The premier said he expected the four to “stop making these remarks, show responsibility, and make it clear to the public that the guidelines must be fully complied with. Only in this way can we maintain health, life and the economy.”

Yesh Atid Chairman Yair Lapid responded to Netanyahu with a letter of his own, in which he accused Netanyahu himself of harming the coronavirus response. The "dangerous remarks, arrogance and irresponsibility" of Netanyahu and those around him, as well as "the deep failure in the decision-making process, have led to over a thousand dead in Israel of the coronavirus," the letter said.

"Almost a million unemployed, over 70,000 businesses will close by the year's end and Israel is in the greatest budget deficit in its history," Lapid wrote. "At this time, when Israel is standing against the most severe health and economic crisis in its history, I expect you to take responsibility, acknowledge your failures and resign."

Joint List Chairman Ayman Odeh tweeted in response to Netanyahu, saying that he wins the gold medal in long-distance running away from his responsibilities. 

Bennett, who leads the far-right Yamina alliance, which is steadily climbing in election polls, called the letter and Netanyahu's media statement "sad."

"At a time when so many citizens are in distress, they don't know what's coming tomorrow, what's happening during the holidays, their businesses are closing, they're waiting to hear from the prime minister, a plan, where is this going, and then they hear more spins like this letter. It's not leadership," Bennett said during an interview for Channel 13 News.

"I really expect the prime minister, who is conducting himself in a disgraceful manner, to get his act together," he said.

Bennett was also critical of Lieberman's call to flout government instructions, adding that while the current coalition is a disaster, Israel is a country of the rule of law.

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