Netanyahu to Remove Head of Knesset Coronavirus Committee Over Her Opposition to Government

'I have come here for one purpose: to serve the Israeli people. If I am forced to pay a personal price for this, I will accept it with love,' committee head says

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Chairwoman of the Coronavirus Committee Yifat Shasha-Biton speaks during a meeting, July 13, 2020.
Chairwoman of the Coronavirus Committee Yifat Shasha-Biton speaks during a meeting, July 13, 2020.Credit: Adina Wallman / Knesset Spokesperson

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said Saturday that he would oust Likud lawmaker Yifat Shasha-Biton from her job as head of the Knesset’s coronavirus committee.

Shasha-Biton had refused on Monday to ratify a cabinet decision to close gyms and swimminng pools, saying sufficient data had not been released about the rate of viral transmission at these venues.

LISTEN: Protests, pandemics and Netanyahu's day of reckoningCredit: Haaretz

“I am a member of the coalition and respect the government’s decisions,” Shasha-Biton said after her announcement on that day. “A central part of the Knesset’s work is to criticize the government’s work, and if there are mistakes, they must be corrected. My role is to examine the most correct way to combat the virus, to preserve citizens’ mental and physical health, and to save the livelihoods of countless workers. I have come here for one purpose: to serve the Israeli people. If I am forced to pay a personal price for this, I will accept it with love.”

Before Netanyahu’s announcement on Saturday, Shasha-Biton had said that “if there was no new catastrophe tomorrow morning, it’s likely that we’ll stay with the decision we made last week,” citing an absence of any further data. “The cabinet decision also noted that there are no new numbers. They’ll have to explain why, despite this, they again wish to close pools and gyms. We’ll sit and discuss this and hear all the relevant professionals before making our decision, based on what we hear.”

She added that she had not spoken to Netanyahu since Monday. “It’s important to tell decision makers that any decision we make on economic issues has to take into account the harm caused versus the health gains. If someone convinced me that there are great gains in closing gyms or beaches, I’d support it. Right now, the numbers don’t support this.”

The Knesset House Committee would have to approve any move to oust Shasha-Biton. Eitan Ginzburg of Kahol Lavan chairs the House Committee but the Likud has a majority of members. The coalition agreement allows Likud to determine its representatives on the committee. The cabinet is also entitled to transfer the handling of these issues to other Knesset committees.

Meanwhile, another member of the coronavirus committee, Yoel Razvozov of Yesh Atid, said that if Netanyahu removes Shasha-Biton from her position, he would urge members to boycott its debates.

“We won’t be a part of Netanyahu’s theater. We will not be rubber stamps. The only Knesset body that will make decisions for the coronavirus crisis is the coronavirus committee. Netanyahu does not want an independent, professional body to criticize the government. He prefers to control everything, even at the cost of the collapse of the economy and the Knesset,” Razvozov said.

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