Opinion |

Netanyahu Must Fire Health Minister – Now

Ronny Linder
Ronny Linder
Health Minister Yaakov Litzman, also head of the ultra-Orthodox United Torah Judaism party, at a press conference in Jerusalem, March 19, 2020.
Health Minister Yaakov Litzman, also head of the ultra-Orthodox United Torah Judaism party, at a press conference in Jerusalem, March 19, 2020.Credit: Ohad Zwigenberg
Ronny Linder
Ronny Linder

If, as Channel 12 News reported on Thursday, it is true that Health Minister Yaakov Litzman, who is known to be infected with the coronavirus, violated the prohibitions imposed by the Health Ministry itself and broke the rules of social distancing set by the government – Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu must fire him at once.

On Friday it was further reported that Litzman is the only Knesset member who has refused to have his temperature taken at the entrance to the Channel 12 News studio.

Haredi leaders learn harsh corona lesson as Israel sends in the troopsCredit: Haaretz

It is difficult to overstate the amount of damage done by behavior like this on the part of the health minister: from the direct and immediate damage of sending the entire top echelon of the country into quarantine, including the heads of the Health Ministry, the prime minister and the head of the National Security Council in the midst of the most difficult battle in the history of Israel’s health system, through the tremendous damage to the public’s trust in its elected officials, to the terrible message his conduct sends to his direct audience, the ultra-Orthodox, who are currently at the center of the outbreak of the epidemic.

This is just the worst in what has been a whole series of baffling and outrageous moves by the health minister in the time of corona, which have included mainly attempts to obtain exceptions from the rules of social distancing, like an attempt to exempt the ritual baths and the synagogues from the prohibition on congregating. And this, even though it was known very well that these are key nodes of contagion. Thus, Litzman was working supposedly for the benefit of his community but in actuality he has done it more harm than anyone else.

It is difficult not to interpret Litzman’s conduct as an attempt to defy the public health regime: an attempt to bend the laws and conceal their violation, as though Litzman is forgetting that he himself is the public health regime – and has been for many years now.

This conduct is congruent with the findings of the investigation we published last week in these pages, and with past investigations of the way Litzman has made the office of health minister a tool for advancing the interests of his community in the areas of real estate, money and health. This is conduct that is entirely separatist and sectarian, but in the case of the coronavirus it constitutes a real danger to the well-being of the public as a whole – and to the well-being of his own community in particular.

This conduct also testifies to flawed judgment and a lack of understanding and internalization of the gravity of the situation. All these come together in a single conclusion: Both in terms of public opinion and actual performance, Litzman cannot continue in his position. The thought that he is insisting upon maintaining his grasp on the health portfolio in the next government as well is already incomprehensible. Once he recovers from his illness, perhaps the Israel Police should also examine his conduct during the past several weeks, at least as energetically as it is investigating violations of self-isolation and chasing down citizens who have gone out for some sport in contravention of the official instructions.

It should be noted that Litzman has denied the testimony reported by Channel 12, claiming it is politically motivated and tied to the coalition negotiations.

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