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5 Oct, 2020 20:58

Israeli minister urged to step down after traveling despite lockdown & revealing Covid-19 diagnosis

Israeli minister urged to step down after traveling despite lockdown & revealing Covid-19 diagnosis

Israel’s environment minister has apologized after coming under fire for testing positive for Covid-19 days after apparently disregarding national lockdown rules to travel some 140 kilometers from home on Yom Kippur.

Minister Gila Gamliel announced on October 3 that she’d contracted the virus, following her journey a week earlier from her Tel Aviv home to a synagogue in the city of Tiberias.

In a statement published by Israeli media on Monday, Gamliel apologized for an “error in judgment,” while insisting she had acted within the guidelines as her husband owns the apartment they stayed at in Tiberias. 

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“I understand that in this period in which there is great importance in maintaining public trust in government instructions, it's possible I made an error in judgment and that there was room to act differently,” she said.

“I apologize to the public, and announce that I will pay the required fine.”

Local reports claim that the Likud politician evaded health ministry investigators for hours. According to sources cited by Haaretz, Gamliel allegedly told epidemiological investigators that she had contracted Covid-19 from her driver, but the health checks apparently revealed that some of her family members who also tested positive for the virus had not had contact with the driver.

Gamliel then apparently admitted that, along with her husband, she and relatives had visited a synagogue in Tiberias for Yom Kippur. 

The controversy over Gamliel’s movements emerged as protests continue in Israel over Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s tightening of the country’s second national lockdown. Under new travel rules Israelis are limited to a one kilometer radius of their homes, a decision that demonstrators say is really aimed at discouraging protests. Israel’s Tourism Minister Asaf Zamir resigned on Friday in protest at the PM’s handling of the pandemic.

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Netanyahu refused to condemn Gamliel, saying on Monday that “The right thing to do right now would be to wait before [drawing] any conclusions.”

Speaking before a committee on the pandemic, he said that “everyone... including ministers and Knesset members, all public servants” are subject to the regulations, but added that he would wait for “the full picture” on Gamliel’s situation before taking action.

Israel’s Movement for Quality Government were among those calling on Gamliel to resign, and the organization asked the attorney general to open a criminal inquiry into her behavior.

In a statement, the non-profit lobby group said: “At a time when the public is expected to obey the strict orders, it is unacceptable for an elected official to just disdain them.”

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