Cabinet meeting
Cabinet meetingYanir Kozen, Knesset Channel & IDF Radio

In recent days, Prime Minister Naftali Bennett has been broadcasting clear messages of warning to those members of the population who have yet to be vaccinated against coronavirus – who number around 1.1 million people – threatening that if a significant number of them do not change their minds and get vaccinated, it is close to certain that the Delta variant of the virus will continue to spread and the country will be plunged into yet another lockdown, most likely during the High Holidays which begin in a month’s time.

At the start of Sunday’s cabinet meeting, as reported by Kikar Hashabbat, Bennett again stressed this message, saying that, “If we get vaccinated in Elul, we will be able to hear the shofar being blown in Tishrei.”

Nonetheless, any decision Bennett wishes to make must meet with the approval of a majority of his cabinet ministers, and as of this moment, when the number of cases being confirmed per day is around 4,000 and the rate of increase in serious cases is accelerating, it is still uncertain whether Bennett has that majority.

At Sunday’s cabinet meeting, several ministers spoke up, demanding that all talk of a fourth national lockdown cease. Finance Minister Avigdor Liberman (Yisrael Beytenu) said, “There are branches [of the economy] that are already suffering now due to the situation being created – including the entire tourism industry and the aviation industry. We have to find the correct solution.”

Tourism Minister Yoel Razvozov (Yisrael Beytenu) added, “Just by uttering the word ‘lockdown’ we cause a huge number of cancellations. If I would be allowed to do so, I would be working on an outline for providing compensation.”

Prime Minister Bennett also reiterated his call to Israeli citizens to go and get vaccinated, saying, “I am again asking you to go all out on the vaccination issue. It’s heartbreaking. In the rest of the world, they’re begging for vaccines and we already have them. We simply have to get hold of these people.”

Intelligence Minister Elazar Stern (Yesh Atid) also expressed his strong opposition to another lockdown, which would be the first to be imposed by the Bennett-Lapid administration. “We need to strike out this word ‘lockdown’ from our dictionary,” he said. “We are forcing people to live under threat.”

Also speaking was Education Minister Yifat Shasha-Biton (New Hope), who said, “Aside from the fact that we need to remove the issue of a lockdown from the agenda, the very fact that we are even talking about it creates facts on the ground. There are already cancellations and people are living in existential fear of their livelihoods being destroyed. We’ve seen the graphs: It doesn’t make any difference if countries impose a full lockdown, a partial lockdown, or no lockdown at all – the contagion rate is unaffected.”

On the other hand, Internal Security Minister Omer Bar Lev (Labor) said, “I also don’t think that we need to terrify people, but we do need to tell people the truth – and the truth is that the situation is terrifying. Every ten days the number of cases is doubling and in another 23 days, we’re going to have 1,600 seriously ill patients, which is more-or-less full capacity in the hospitals. The worst-case scenario isn’t talking about a lockdown – it’s reaching the point of lockdown in another four weeks.”

Transportation Minister Merav Michaeli (Labor) then suggested a creative solution for encouraging people to get vaccinated – requiring the country’s health funds to make vaccination appointments for all those yet to have received the shots, and then informing the people of the time and place of the appointment, without forcing anyone to keep it, but making it psychologically easier for a person to take the step. “I think that this change in approach, one that is based on behavioral science, will lead to a substantial increase in the number of people going to get vaccinated,” she said.

Minister for Social Equality Merav Cohen (Yesh Atid) then changed the subject to the country’s Green Pass rules, decrying the decision to exempt synagogues from the restrictions. “It pains me to have to refer to the exemption of synagogues from the Green Pass rules,” she said. “It’s as if we learned nothing from the previous waves of the epidemic, when tens if not hundreds of deaths were caused by people going to synagogue, and the impression was created that the regulations were not being applied equally. We should be able to find creative solutions that don’t exact a price in lives,” she said.

In response, the government secretary Shalom Shlomo said that the exemption of the synagogues had been decided upon due to the request of the Attorney-General, but just a few minutes later, Dr. Avichai Mandelblit denied this. Prime Minister Bennett then put a halt to the debate, saying only that, “This will be discussed in a smaller forum.”