Prime Minister Naftali Bennett chose to use the international platform at the UN General Assembly to criticize senior Israeli health officials, later repeating the message in a press briefing to Israeli reporters after his address, raising a political storm in Israel. Many public figures condemned Bennett and spoke out in support of public health officials.
“Running a country during a pandemic is not only about health,” Bennett said during his speech at the UN General Assembly. “It’s about carefully balancing all aspects of life that are affected by corona, especially jobs and education. While doctors are an important input, they cannot be the ones running the national initiative.”
In a press briefing with Israeli reporters after his address, Bennett said that health officials aren’t “looking at the full picture” and accused them of “stuttering” when he asked them to justify the restrictions they recommended.
Bennett’s relationship with senior health ministers has been fraught with tension as the government hasn’t been willing to heed their warnings about the high infection rate and overloaded hospitals. Bennett has repeatedly said that he will not impose restrictions that will harm the economy and keep children out of school, with many criticizing him as placing other values ahead of of human life. In addition, hospitals are suffering from dire shortages, especially of medical staff, and the government hasn’t approved the necessary funds to assist them.
Health Minister Nitzan Horowitz said in an interview on Wednesday that “Bennett’s words at the UN surprised me and were inappropriate.” Another senior health official said, “Bennett denigrated senior Health Ministry officials and senior doctors who advise the government in front of the entire world.”
“Have you gone crazy?” a senior government official said. “What are you doing? Get a hold of yourself. True leaders know how to work with other professionals. Since the fourth wave broke out, another 1,300 Israelis have died and he didn’t mention a word about it. Bennett’s words were outrageous…it’s unfathomable.”
During a meeting of the Knesset’s Constitution, Law, and Justice Committee on Wednesday, at which Dr. Sharon Alroy-Preis, the head of the Health Ministry’s Public Health division, was present, UTJ MK Uri Maklev spoke in her support: “I want to express support in light of the words of the prime minister against you. Even when criticism is warranted, shaming is not appropriate. All of us here, public officials, express opposition to what was done to you.”
UTJ MK Yitzchak Pindrus said: “Bennett forgot that as the prime minister he is supposed to represent you. I call on you not to get too upset. Bennett doesn’t represent you, we have more mandates than him.”
A Yediot Achranot reporter said: “This was your first big political speech, you flew for 11 hours to fight with Sharon Alroy-Preis? That’s bizarre.”
Health Ministry Director-General Prof. Nachman Ash said that he was saddened by Bennett’s comments at the UN and he was surprised that Bennett didn’t express gratitude for Israeli medical professionals for their great dedication in the fight against the coronavirus instead of words of criticism.
(YWN Israel Desk – Jerusalem)