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Israeli PM Netanyahu attacked after threatening to fire head of parliamentary coronavirus committee

Yifat Shasha Biton publicly criticised Netanyahu's new coronavirus restrictions [Twitter]

Date of publication: 19 July, 2020

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Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has threatened to fire the head of the Israeli Knesset’s Coronavirus Committee after she publicly disagreed with his decision to close gyms and swimming pools.
Israeli Prime Minster Benjamin Netanyahu has threatened to fire a lawmaker from his right-wing Likud party from her position as head of the Coronavirus Committee of the Israeli Knesset, or parliament.

Yifat Shasha Biton said on Saturday evening that she would oppose the Israeli government's new policy of closing gyms and swimming pools, the Israeli newspaper Jerusalem Post reported, saying that the Israeli government had failed to provide enough statistics to justify the policy.

On Saturday night, the Israeli government announced new restrictions to combat the coronavirus pandemic, including the closure of gyms and restaurants.

The Netanyahu government has come under fierce criticism domestically recently for its response to the coronavirus crisis, amid a new spike in cases. While strict lockdown measures imposed in March helped control the disease, Netanyahu allowed the Israeli economy to reopen in late April and early May, leading to a rise in the infection rate.

Recent weeks have seen more than 1,000 new cases every day, and protesters have taken to the streets to denounce the economic effect of the crisis.

On Saturday night, Shasha Biton told Israel's Channel 12 TV, "Tomorrow we will discuss the restrictions, we will demand statistics… we need to understand what the economic damage is compared with the health advantage of each step."

"At the moment there are new statistics. The explanations in the government resolution they state there are no new statistics, and they have to explain to us why, despite the lack of new statistics, they are again demanding to close gyms and pools. We will listen to all the professionals and make a decision," she added.

Read also: New coronavirus lockdown becomes another financial burden for Palestinians

A spokesman for Netanyahu later published a statement saying: "The prime minister will fire Yifat Shasha Biton from her position. It is impossible to continue working like this."

However, it is doubtful that Netanyahu will be able to actually fire Shasha Biton because the decision to dismiss her rests with the Knesset House Committee, which is chaired by Eitan Ginzburg of the Blue and White alliance.

The centrist Blue and White alliance, led by Defence Minister Benny Gantz, is currently in an uneasy coalition government with Netanyahu’s Likud.

Gantz said that he was "working to prevent the dismissal of Shasha Biton".

"I think it is right that the coronavirus committee accept the decisions of the government regarding coronavirus, but together with that we are obligated to respect its [the committee’s] role in the Knesset," he added.

Netanyahu was criticised by opposition politicians and members of his own party for his threat to sack Shasha Biton. Gideon Sa'ar, a Likud Knesset member seen as a rival to Netanyahu said: "There is an important and principled argument wither infection rate statistics justify increasing the damage to the economy and [people's] livelihoods.

"This argument will not be decided by threats. The government operates through power of the trust of the Knesset, and not the opposite."

Avigdor Lieberman, the head of the far-right Yisrael Beytenu party said: "Mr. Prime Minister, perhaps you have forgotten but the job of the Knesset is to carry out oversight over the work of the government and not to be a rubber stamp."

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