The Corona Cabinet, which on paper has 12 member ministers, has been meeting without two key participants: Foreign Minister, Alternate Prime Minister and deputy committee chairman Yair Lapid, and Finance Minister Avigdor Liberman, Reshet Bet reported Wednesday night and Thursday morning. By law, both ministers must participate in the meetings.
Lapid, by the way, has not participated in the Corona cabinet meetings that are directly related to the Foreign Ministry, notably Tuesday’s meeting that extended the already long list of “red countries,” and passed new rules regarding Ben Gurion International Airport. It’s been noted that since becoming a minister, Lapid has been photographed flying and walking around the airport without a mask, despite the regulations.
Shas chairman Aryeh Deri on Thursday morning slammed Lapid and Liberman, saying in a statement: “I was shocked to hear that Lapid and Liberman are regularly absent from the Corona cabinet discussions. Regarding government ministers who play a key role in dealing with the Corona crisis – the discussions in the Corona cabinet are critical and have an impact on all of our lives. I have never before encountered such blatant contempt for the public on the part of government ministers and such a shirking of responsibility. This is sheer lawlessness. Shame and disgrace.”
(To remind you, in 2000, Deri was convicted of taking $155,000 in bribes while serving as Interior Minister and was sentenced to three years in jail. He was released for good behavior in 2002, after serving 22 months. So he would know.)
Lapid responded to the brouhaha on his Facebook page, saying, among other things: “Here is a news report: the foreign minister does not have to be part of the Corona cabinet discussions because it is not part of his areas of practice or expertise. […] It’s better that the tourism minister be present because the cabinet decisions have a direct impact on the tourism industry.”
He added: “Even as the alternate prime minister, I don’t need to be there because the current prime minister, Naftali Bennett, is managing the Corona crisis well, calmly, with a balanced attitude, while listening to the professionals. In a time when all over the world there is a sharp rise in infection and mortality, Prime Minister Bennett is the right person in the right place.”
Member of Knesset (MK) Yoav Kisch, of the Likud party, called on Lapid to resign, saying that “Lapid thinks he’s unnecessary at the coronavirus cabinet. The truth is, Lapid, you’re right. You really are unnecessary — please quit.”
Finance Minister Liberman issued a statement saying he “appointed the Minister in the Finance Ministry Hamad Amar as his representative in the Corona cabinet during the construction of the budget and the Arrangements Law and their approval by the government. The professional staff of the Finance Ministry is also present at the cabinet meetings and takes an active part in decisions. The Finance Minister is being updated and participates in decisions relevant to the Israeli economy.”
MK Yisrael Katz, the former finance minister, sharply attacked Liberman, saying that he “pays no attention to the prime minister, nor to the alternate one.”
The Ministerial Committee on Dealing with the Corona Crisis and its Consequences (a.k.a. the Corona Cabinet) was first established by Netanyahu’s government on May 24, 2020, and on July 26, 2020, it was cut in half, for the same reason senior ministers are not able today to participate in all its meetings – they have many other things to do.
The Corona Cabinet serves as a supreme framework of coordination for all government agencies involved in dealing with the Corona crisis, to refine the government’s actions regarding the implications of the crisis on the health, social and economic spheres. This role, by definition, is best carried out by professional staff, with the bigwigs being called in to approve major decisions, if they bother to show up.