Likud Minister Tzachi Hanegbi came under heavy scrutiny after he dismissed claims that many Israelis struggle to afford food due to the coronavirus crisis as “nonsense.”
When asked in an interview on Channel 12 on Friday what he plans to do to help people in Israel who don’t have enough food to eat, Hanegbi said that “this talk that ‘people have nothing to eat’ is nonsense. There are a million people unemployed, most of whom have so far received unemployment benefits and now we have to get them back to work. There are businesses that have been hit and are in dire straits, but saying ‘there is nothing to eat’ is populism.”
Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu lamented Hanegbi’s comments. His office released a statement saying that “like in the rest of the world, the coronavirus is taking a high toll on people’s lives, health and livelihoods. The challenge is real and the prime minister is working around the clock to address it, including via economic aid packages for businesses and citizens.”
Hanegbi himself issued an apology for his comments, saying “unfortunately, in the heat of the debate, I expressed myself in a way that hurt public sentiment. That was not my intention and I take back what I said.“I promise that we will continue to act responsibly and sensitively to get the economy back on track, and to compensate as much as possible those who are rightfully fearful for their future and for their families,” Hanegbi concluded.
Although Hangebi and other Likud senior officials were quick to apologize for the contentious remark, many remain unsatisfied with this apology.
Gidi Kroch, CEO of Leket Israel, remarked that in one thoughtless statement, Hanegbi undermined the growing distress of many households in Israel – those that until the coronavirus crisis could not have ever imagined they would. Kroch noted that since the outbreak of the coronavirus crisis, Leket Israel has distributed 60% more fruit and vegetables and 50% more hot meals than the period before. During the months of the crisis, 31 local authorities turned to Leket to distribute food to those in need, compared to only 5 local authorities in the period prior to the emergency regulations.
“This in itself shows the significant increase in the number of hungry people,” he said. “Yes, literally – hungry.”
It was noted that this isn’t the first time Hangebi has made remarks that sparked public anger. During a November 2018 round of escalation in violence with Hamas in the Gaza Strip, hundreds of rockets were fired at Israeli border towns.
Asked why Israel did not respond more harshly to such acts of aggression, Hanegbi told Army Radio: “Hamas’ response was minor – there is a difference between Tel Aviv and other communities,” implying that Tel Aviv has greater importance than outlying towns.