Netanyahu Challenger Sa'ar Says the PM 'Shirks Responsibility' for Over 5,000 COVID Deaths

As electioneering steps up in earnest, the prime minister's former ally takes aim at the government's handling of the coronavirus crisis, arguing the dead are 'just background noise' for Netanyahu

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Gideon Sa'ar visits hospital directors' protest near the Finance Ministry building in Jerusalem, last month.
Gideon Sa'ar visits hospital directors' protest near the Finance Ministry building in Jerusalem, last month.Credit: Emil Salman

Former Likud lawmaker Gideon Sa’ar, who is running for the premiership in Israel’s March 23 election with his New Hope party, said on Tuesday that Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu “takes credit when something goes right, but ignores and shirks responsibility whenever there are failures.”

In an interview with Army Radio, Sa’ar took aim at remarks made Monday by Netanyahu in a Channel 12 News interview, in which Netanyahu dismissed criticism over his government’s handling of the coronavirus crisis.

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When Netanyahu is criticized, he makes a joke of it, said Sa’ar. “For him, 5,406 deaths is [nothing]. That Israeli students are the world record holders in sitting at home, mutations are being imported through the huge breach in Ben-Gurion Airport and the failure in enforcement – and it is all a sort of background noise that is bothering him.”

Sa’ar also criticized the way Netanyahu has handled the coronavirus crisis as well as the lack of a state budget – which Sa’ar says is what led to the fourth election. “If after all they had wanted to pass an economic plan, they would have allowed the budget to pass and not sent the country to elections once again.”

In an interview on Monday with Channel 12 News, Netanyahu responded to criticism of his handling of the coronavirus crisis: “Stop twisting things...What we are seeing is that we’re leading the world in vaccinations and are coming out of the coronavirus [crisis] first,” he said.

The most recent poll by Channel 13 projected Netanyahu's Likud to garner the most votes, with 28 seats, while Sa'ar's party would be the third largest party in the Knesset, receiving 13 seats, a marked decline from his early polling.

The senior Likud member left Netanyahu's party in December, charging that Likud "has increasingly and dramatically changed its path in recent years. The movement has become a tool to serve the interests of the prime minister, including those related to his criminal trial."

In 2019, Sa'ar was comprehensively defeated by Netanyahu in the Likud party's primary election.

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