Ignoring repeated appeals from Prime Minister Naftali Bennett and government health experts for Israelis to refrain from traveling abroad, opposition leader Benjamin Netanyahu flew to the United States this weekend for a two-week vacation.
The former prime minister was photographed with his wife Sara and son Yair at San Francisco International Airport on Sunday, apparently waiting to check in for a connecting flight. His trip comes as both Jerusalem and Washington are increasing travel restrictions between the two countries, with officials on both sides advising their citizens to refrain from flying due to rising morbidity.
In the pictures, Netanyahu, who was wearing a mask and sitting on a luggage cart, appeared to be scowling at the photographer.
Last Wednesday, a Knesset panel approved a measure requiring all American travelers arriving in Israel to enter quarantine for at least seven days. The implementation of the new restriction came two days after the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention added Israel to its highest risk level, advising American citizens to avoid traveling there.
Netanyahu, who had previously closed down most international travel in response to the pandemic, has been harshly critical of his successor’s handling of the health crisis.
During a Knesset debate on what the opposition had termed the “Ben-Gurion Airport fiasco” this July, Netanyahu accused Bennett of “spoiling” his government’s “great success in battling the coronavirus,” saying that he was “not doing anything” to curb the rise in infections.
“Instead of blocking the Indian variant - you took a selfie with it at Ben-Gurion Airport,” Netanyahu said.
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The lifting of most restrictions on international travel for Israelis this summer saw increasing numbers of people flying abroad as well as widespread complaints of long lines for mandatory COVID tests for returnees.
While both Bennett and Health Ministry director-general, prof. Nachman Ash, have urged Israelis to avoid nonessential trips abroad due to the spread of the highly contagious delta variant, June saw 301,000 passengers flying out of Tel Aviv – a record for the pandemic months. July, meanwhile, saw 536,336 passengers arrive in Israel, some 70 percent of whom were either vaccinated or had recovered from COVID-19.
"I am asking: If you don't need to fly overseas, do not fly," Bennett said during a press conference this June.
“Associates” of the former prime minister told Hebrew daily Yediot Aharonot that the United States is not a “red country” to which travel is forbidden and that Netanyahu and his family would enter quarantine upon returning to Israel.
New restrictions at Ben-Gurion Airport will take effect starting Monday. Arrivals from only 10 countries will be exempt from quarantine.
Passengers from Austria, Australia, Hong Kong, Hungary, Taiwan, Moldova, New Zealand, China, Singapore and the Czech Republic will not be required to enter isolation. However, only Austria, Hungary, Moldova and the Czech Republic allow Israelis to enter at the moment.
People who return from these ten countries will be required to isolate for 24 hours, or until they receive a negative COVID test result – the earlier of the two.