Israeli minister quits government over COVID-19 curbs on protests


Tel Aviv (Reuters) – Israel’s tourism minister resigned on Friday in protest at a new law that curbed demonstrations against Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, saying the measure left him without a “shred of trust” in the veteran leader.

Asaf Zamir will be replaced by Orit Farkash Hacohen, a fellow member of the Blue and White party, a party spokeswoman said.

“My conscience does not allow me to stay in a government that prevents de facto protests,” Zamir said on Facebook. “Even at its most difficult time, Netanyahu runs the country according to his own political interest.”

Netanyahu’s right-wing Likud, which forged a coalition government with Blue and White in May after a close election, called Zamir’s resignation an attempt to shore up support from liberal Israelis angry with the premier. Blue and White is led by Defence Minister Benny Gantz, a Netanyahu rival.

“Blue and White are sitting in a government while working against the government. It is time for them to decide whether to fight the disease, or fight the government,” Likud said on Twitter.

Netanyahu has been facing protests over his handling of the coronavirus crisis and allegations of corruption, which he denies.

Parliament on Wednesday approved a government-backed edict banning Israelis from holding demonstrations more than 1 km (0.6 miles) from their homes, tightening a second-wave coronavirus lockdown.

The government said it was aimed at curbing COVID-19 infections, but critics said its intention was to block protests near Netanyahu’s official residence in Jerusalem.

Dozens protested in Tel Aviv on Thursday. Police said 12 were arrested over “public disturbances”.

Opinion polls show only about a quarter of the public has confidence in Netanyahu’s handling of the pandemic, which had largely subsided during a March-May lockdown.

New COVID-19 cases in Israel have risen above 7,000 a day among its 9 million population, overtaxing some hospitals.

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