Litzman, Go Home Now

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Israeli Health Minister Yaakov Litzman.

It’s difficult to imagine a clearer expression of the cynicism and disrespect for Israelis that characterizes the establishment of the new government than having Yaakov Litzman remain minister of health, at the height of the worst health crisis in the country’s history. That decision alone is enough to refute the claim of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Knesset Speaker Benny Gantz that they are forming an “emergency government to fight the coronavirus.”

Litzman has headed the Health Ministry since April 2009, with the exception of a one-month hiatus. During his tenure he has focused on helping the Gur Hasidic community, to which he belongs. He acted to thwart the extradition to Australia of Malka Leifer, who has been charged with child sexual abuse. He arranged for the use of precious hospital resources to accommodate the head of the sect, and as TheMarker revealed Friday, he also facilitated financial and property deals for the Gur Hasidim. The problems of Israel’s health care system were of much less interest, if any, to him.

At the beginning of the coronavirus crisis in Israel, Litzman acted to exclude the ultra­­-Orthodox community from social-distancing rules and to permit mikvehs and synagogues to continue to operate. He even promised that the Messiah would come and eliminate the pandemic.

The dimensions of the catastrophe that his indifference and scorn wreaked on the Haredi community, in whose towns and neighborhoods the virus is raging, are now coming to light. But it doesn’t end there. It recently became clear that Litzman, who now has COVID-19 himself, repeatedly violated his own ministry’s behavioral directives for curbing the spread of the disease. He prayed in groups, refused to have his temperature taken and concealed the findings of the epidemiological examination of his cellphone. (Litzman refuted statements by worshipers who saw him.)

These facts alone are sufficient to warrant his immediate dismissal by Netanyahu, who was among several senior government figures who entered self-quarantine as a result of their contact with Litzman.

But Netanyahu, who stands charged with bribery, fraud and breach of trust, is loath to do anything that would hurt his political partner Litzman, whom the police have recommended charging with similar offenses in the Leifer affair and another case. Furthermore, after Litzman allegedly violated the emergency regulations his loyalty to the prime minister will only grow stronger. Netanyahu is focused on evading prosecution, and it’s hard to expect from him genuine concern for the health care system, which never interested him, or for the worried public, beyond his gloom-and-doom televised addresses about the coronavirus crisis. Gantz, the former military chief of staff who promised to help “shoulder the stretcher,” must behave differently. He must demand Litzman’s immediate dismissal as health minister as a nonnegotiable condition for establishing the government.

The above article is Haaretz’s lead editorial, as published in the Hebrew and English newspapers in Israel.

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