Prime Minister Benjamin Netnyahu's Likud party and Defense Minister Benny Gantz's Kahol Lavan traded barbs on Friday, as the resignation of one of Gantz's party members from the government escalated tensions between the two main coalition partners.
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Gantz, who also holds the title of alternate prime minister, argued in a statement – without mentioning Netanyahu by name – that his party had joined the coalition to battle the coronavirus, not democracy and the rule of law.
"The attempts to harm the lives of protesters alongside riots against police officers make it necessary for us as a government to restore order," Gantz said, announcing he had instructed Justice Minister Avi Nissenkorn to begin the process of appointing a new State Prosecutor. He also called to appoint a permanent chief of police.
"Anyone who doesn't like it can set a date for another election," the statement concluded.
Senior positions, according to the coalition deal between Likud and Kahol Lavan, can only be filled once Israel formally ends its coronavirus emergency, still in effect. Nominations would be decided by a committee comprised of representatives of both major blocs in the coalition.
That committee hasn't convened so far, and Gantz has no authority to nominate any senior position without a green light from Netanyahu, and vice versa, according to their agreement.
Netanyahu's Likud party said in a tweet following Gantz's statement: "Kahol Lavan are part of the government and act against it. It's time they decide whether they are fighting the disease or fighting the government."
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Likud accused Gantz's party of "playing a game of politics on the backs of Israeli citizens," citing the latest resignation, the attendance of a Kahol Lavan lawmaker at an anti-Netanyahu rally this week and "the breach of the coalition agreement" by calling to fill senior positions.
Earlier on Friday, Tourism Minister Asaf Zamir announced that he had informed Gantz of his resignation, citing lack of trust in the prime minister and his leadership.
"Today I met with Benny Gantz and told him I am resigning from my post as a minister in the government. I can no longer sit in a government led by someone I have no trust in," Zamir wrote in a Facebook post.
"I have always believed in trying to influence from within, even at the cost of public criticism. As long as I believed that the results of my actions were making a difference, doing good. I no longer feel that way," he wrote. "After four and a half months as a member of the government, I regret to say that the coronavirus crisis, with its dire consequences, is, at best, second on the prime minister's list of priorities."
"It is personal and legal considerations that come first for Netanyahu," wrote Zamir, referring to Netanyahu's trial in three corruption cases.
Zamir also criticized the government, claiming that "meaningful discussions on burning issues" are lacking from official meetings. "Netanyahu is unable of saving the country from the deep crisis it is in. After all, he led us into it," wrote Zamir, adding that he is worried Israel is "on the verge of a total beakdown."
About two weeks ago, when the government voted to impose the second nationwide lockdown, coronavirus czar Ronni Gamzu was quoted as saying that the motive for the decision was not to protect the public's health, but for Netanyahu's personal gains. "It all started when the lawyers said that demonstrations could not be prevented. Netanyahu said, 'If everyone is at home and the whole economy is shut down, then demonstrations cannot be prevented?'" Gamzu said on Channel 13 News. "It was disgusting. A precedent in the country."
Netanyahu's Likud party accused Zamir in response of "fleeing the battle [against the virus] only to garner votes for the local elections in Tel Aviv," adding that "Kahol Lavan have to decide whether they are working in unity in a government that is fighting the coronavirus, or whether they continue to create chaos within the government and thus harm the actions required for the benefit of the citizens of Israel."
MK Ofer Shelah, the Yesh Atid opposition party's perennial second string, commended Zamir on his resignation and called him "an honest person and honest people can no longer be in this government." Shelah added that "Gantz and Ashkenazi can perhaps deceive themselves, but not the many honest people in Kahol Lavan."
The Black Flag movement behind the months long anti-Netanyahu protests also praised Zamir for his decision, despite the vigorous campaign posters the movement released a few weeks ago, accusing Zamir of being a part of the government's corruption.