Bennett Comment Provokes Ire of Health Officials

YERUSHALAYIM -
Prime Minister Naftali Bennett addresses the 76th Session of the United Nations General Assembly, at the U.N. headquarters in New York, Monday. (John Minchillo/Pool via Reuters)

Prime Minister Naftali Bennett was in damage control mode on Wednesday following disparaging remarks he made about Israel’s health establishment before returning from the U.N. General Assembly in New York.

Bennett told a press briefing earlier in the day that Israeli health officials “don’t see the full picture” and that they “stuttered” when he demanded explanations for their recommendations to impose further limits on public gatherings to stem the coronavirus surge.

Apparently, after word got back to the prime minister about the unfavorable reaction back home, he told reporters just before boarding his flight back to Israel that he “greatly respects” the medical experts advising his cabinet, though he reiterated that he is not obligated to implement all of their recommendations.

Health officials were reportedly outraged that Bennett used his platform to publicly pursue his running dispute with the experts on coronavirus policy.

“The policy of this government is to keep Israel as open as possible, the economy as open as possible, alongside targeted efforts toward the unvaccinated and infection hotspots,” Bennett said.

Health officials have pressed for more restrictions to curb the recent rise in cases. On Wednesday, there were 53 patients on ECMO machines used for treating some critical coronavirus cases, Channel 12 reported, the most since the start of the pandemic.

Health Minister Nitzan Horowitz called Bennett’s swipe at the health professionals “unnecessary and unfortunate,” though he sided with Bennett against fresh limitations.

Health Ministry Director-General Nachman Ash told Channel 12 that he was “saddened” that such criticism had been highlighted by Bennett at the U.N. rather than “the great dedication of medical teams in their daily work to save lives under great strain.”

“I was surprised, I thought the prime minister would have conveyed a real message and said ‘let us learn from Israeli leadership that is based on the opinion of professionals, doctors and researchers leading the battle against the pandemic,” coronavirus commissioner, Prof. Salman Zarka, told Yediot.