Analysis |

Violating Lockdown, Israel's Minister of Flouting May Become No. 1 Super-spreader Among Politicians

Chutzpah has been Likud Minister Gila Gamliel's middle name for a long time. But now, her behavior during the COVID-19 lockdown warrants a teachable moment for the aspiring education minister

Yossi Verter
Yossi Verter
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Israel's Environmental Protection Minister Gila Gamliel at the Knesset in May, 2020.
Israel's Environmental Protection Minister Gila Gamliel at the Knesset in May, 2020. Credit: Alex Kolomoisky
Yossi Verter
Yossi Verter

Minister Gila Gamliel’s declared dream was to be appointed education minister. She considers herself an educational figure. It’s highly likely that won’t happen. But she can still make an educational statement – and resign.

Her belated, partial apology is insufficient. Far from it. And if in addition to what is already known, the police investigation finds that she did not tell the truth in the epidemiological investigation, or evaded answering phone calls for hours on end, the attorney general should act to lift her immunity.

HAARETZ PODCAST: A very close call for Netanyahu and Mossad chief at the White HouseCredit: Haaretz

Disrupting an epidemiological investigation at the height of a pandemic is no less serious than disrupting a criminal investigation. Gamliel should know that, shouldn’t she? She’s a member of a club that discusses and votes on those issues. Meanwhile, we can read between the lines in the Health Ministry’s reaction to the matter. It speaks about completing the epidemiological investigation (but not about the minister’s prolonged evasion of the investigation); and avoids the rest – as if to say, the ministry does not examine violations of the law, it only locates chains of infection.

The smell wafting from the affair, revealed by Chaim Levinson in Haaretz, is the reek of profound chutzpah, and to use a popular expression: peeing from the diving board. Chutzpah has been the minister’s middle name for a long time, although until now it was confined “only” to her public and political activity.

Chutzpah is posting a saccharine tweet from the family sukkah, in which she instructs the Jewish people to celebrate at home with their nuclear family according to the regulations, at a time when she herself left behind an infection chain of 200 kilometers, between Tiberias and Tel Aviv.

Chutzpah is claiming (again through “associates”) that the reason why she screened the phone calls from the Health Ministry such a long time was that she wasn’t feeling well.

But in the tweet in which she reported on her diagnosis, she reassured an anxious nation: “I’m feeling well.” Chutzpah is the bullying response she sent after the report in Haaretz two days ago: “Another attempt to hurt Likudniks, by means of fabrications and pathetic lies.”

Even her apology contains tons of chutzpah, fabrications and pathetic lies: “I worked within the limitations of the lockdown in order to continue my regular public activity, and in light of the fact that at the same time I’m the mother of young daughters.”

This character trait didn’t begin today. Let’s take, for example, her obsession with trips abroad, when she was serving as a minister in the semi-fictitious Ministry for Social Equality, which was invented for her, from 2015 to 2019. The globe was the playing field of the woman who turned herself into the minister for vacation equality, accompanied by a retinue. She flew to distant continents, financed by the public coffers or the inviting organizations.

Every time she was asked, What was she, Gila, doing abroad (in light of her provincial ministerial job), she produced a standard response that in effect said: Go jump in the lake. Because I can. And she flew on to the next destination.

Gamliel has a foothold in the ranks of Likud, which put her in ninth place on the Knesset list. However, she has no real public status. In the prime minister’s residence they quite despise her. Occasionally she is caught demonstrating (relatively) statesmanlike behavior, which in the Netanyahu family was received as defiance and heresy. Nor is she the first to show up in the TV studios to scream about the “framing” of the prime minister.

Because of her high spot on the party roster, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu couldn’t ignore her when he appointed the ministers. He ousted Zeev Elkin from the Environmental Protection Ministry for her, appointed him minister of higher education and water resources (and turned him into a symbol of the deafness, wastefulness and absurdity in this government). And now of all times, when for the first time in her political career she has a real ministry, she brought this catastrophe on herself.

Netanyahu waited for almost two days before issuing a reaction, which is essentially an evasion of a genuine response. His violent reaction-machine usually knows how to launch his bombs of disgust within seconds – occasionally even before the broadcast of the report or an interview with someone. But when it comes to coronavirus violations and infections in his coalition, he usual keeps his mouth shut.

That’s what he did when Deputy Minister Meir Porush ignored the law at the wedding of the granddaughter of the admor of Vishnitz, or when Minister Yaakov Litzman was also caught violating the directives, and became infected with the virus. Only a partial list, on which Gamliel is now becoming a star, as the person who may receive the crown of the No. 1 superspreader among our elected officials.

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