B&W Minister Resigns: Netanyahu More Concerned by Own Personal Woes than Fight against COVID-19

Tourism Minister Asaf Zamir became the first Blue & White minister to quit far-right Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s government on Friday, October 2, sending the political system into turmoil and raising speculation that elections could be on the horizon. Zamir resigned from the government, citing the passage of controversial legislation last week to restrict protests during the current coronavirus lockdown and asserting that Netanyahu is more concerned by his personal and legal woes than the fight against COVID-19.

“I can no longer sit in a government in whose leader I haven’t an iota of faith,” Zamir wrote in a lengthy Facebook post, in reference to Netanyahu. In his resignation announcement, Zamir said that the cabinet’s approval of regulations limiting protests that were subsequently ratified by the Knesset earlier this week were the “final straw” for him.

"A State in Protest": At left, Jerusalem's Paris Square during a severely limited demonstration; At right, live reportage from Tel Aviv

“A State in Protest”: At left, Jerusalem’s Paris Square during a severely limited demonstration; At right, live reportage from Tel Aviv (Screenshot from Channel 13 News)

“After 4.5 months as a member of the government I can sadly state that the coronavirus crisis and its terrible consequences are at best second in the prime minister’s list of priorities,” Zamir wrote. He charged that for weeks the government has dealt almost exclusively with the months-long protests against Netanyahu. He lamented that a budget for 2020 still has not been approved, and that no efforts were being made to prepare a budget for next year. “Even in Israel’s most difficult hour, Netanyahu’s current political interest is what manages the country,” Zamir said. “There are no significant deliberations about truly urgent matters during cabinet meetings.”

In response to Zamir’s resignation, Hadash MK Aida Touma-Sliman (Joint List) said: “The former minister laid out a serious indictment against all those who remain in the government a minute longer and continue to keep Netanyahu in power. You are not serving the people, you are serving Netanyahu. It’s time to resign.” The Black Flag protest movement issued a statement praising Zamir for his resignation, calling it a “courageous step.” The movement called on the rest of Blue & White MKs to “stand for democracy like he did.”

Zamir was not the first Blue & White minister to express interest in resigning this week, but he was the first one to follow through. Late Thursday, October 1, Science and Technology Minister Izhar Shay backtracked from plans to quit the government in protest over the passed anti-democratic rules. Shay had been set to announce his resignation after a stormy cabinet meeting during which limits on protest attendance were approved. However, after meeting with Gantz, the party put out a statement saying that Shay had decided to remain on duty. He also said the true purpose of the new restrictions was to stop the ongoing protests against Netanyahu, an issue the premier had pushed for.

Opposition lawmakers on Friday accused the coalition of shuttering small businesses to justify new emergency regulations that grant the government authority to limit the protests against Netanyahu. The accusations came after the Knesset’s Constitution Law and Justice Committee late Thursday night authorized the government’s emergency regulations to limit crowding. The new restrictions went into effect at midnight Thursday and will remain in force at least until October 7.