Public anger has deepened in Israel over a bitterly unpopular second coronavirus lockdown after reported violations by high-profile figures, including a hairdresser visiting the prime minister’s wife.
Israel, which currently has one of the world’s highest Covid-19 infection rates per capita, has re-imposed draconian movement restrictions, with people compelled to remain within a kilometre (less than a mile) of their homes.
Only essential workers are allowed to leave their residences, adding further stress to an already battered economy, while Jews have been barred from gathering with friends and family over the High Holidays.
A spokesman for the family of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu defended his wife’s decision to summon a hairdresser to their official residence, saying it was part of her efforts to contain the virus.
A family statement said Sara Netanyahu booked the appointment ahead of filming a “video, in which she called on everyone to wear masks”.
“Ms. Netanyahu is an influential public figure and this is an informational video for the public service, she assumed that hairdresser services can be used, as is customary on television channels,” the statement further said.
It added that the hairdresser wore a mask and gloves and that the premier’s wife “strictly adheres” to all health ministry guidelines on containing the novel coronavirus.
The Yediot Ahronoth newspaper voiced outrage at what it described as hypocrisy.
“Thousands of barbers and hairdressers stayed at home, without their livelihood,” because of the lockdown, it wrote on Wednesday.
“Yet once again, it turns out that the rules that apply to Israeli citizens do not apply to the prime minister’s circle and his associates.”
– Security chief, environment minister –
Sara Netanyahu’s alleged quarantine infraction came after environmental protection minister and Netanyahu ally Gali Gamliel travelled to Tiberias — 137 kilometres (85 miles) from her Tel Aviv home — on Yom Kippur.
Israel’s attorney general is due to rule on whether to open a formal investigation into Gamliel’s alleged infraction.
Days later, the head of the powerful Shin Bet internal security agency, Nadav Argaman, was accused by Israeli public radio of hosting relatives at his private home for the Sukkot holiday, breaking lockdown rules.
Argaman leads an agency responsible for tracking quarantine violators through their cellphones.
For Denis Charbit, a political scientist at the Open University of Israel, the “transgressions” of prominent figures serve as a justification for ordinary Israelis to breach the lockdown.
“Individual freedoms are hampered by the government-imposed containment, and the lockdown rules are not effective if leaders do not respect them,” he told AFP.
“The impunity that these politicians generally enjoy reinforces the public’s mistrust in the authorities,” he added.
Within the opposition ranks, lawmaker Miky Levy of the Yesh Atid party resigned from parliament’s coronavirus committee following media reports that he spent Sukkot in his son’s home.
– Political damage –
Netanyahu won praise for his initial response to the coronavirus outbreak in March, but surging transmission in recent months and the renewed restrictions have hurt him politically.
A protest movement partly driven by frustration over his virus management has continued, with demonstrators constantly adapting to comply with lockdown measures, including gathering in small clusters across the country.
Meanwhile, Netanyahu’s right-wing Likud party, which won 36 out of 120 parliamentary seats in March polls, would currently take just 26 seats, according to a poll this week by Israel’s Channel 12.
The same survey found that 65 percent of Israelis believe Netanyahu is handling the coronavirus crisis “poorly”.