Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has been accused of exploiting the coronavirus crisis to avoid trial on corruption charges and retain his position as leader despite failing to secure a majority in last month’s election, the third inconclusive poll Israel has faced in a year.
In a statement, Israeli opposition figure Yair Lapid, once tipped as a possible successor to Netanyahu, accused Netanyahu of “shutting down Israeli democracy” after enacting a series of restrictions to prevent the spread of the coronavirus in Israel.
One of the measures implemented by Netanyahu included postponing the start of his criminal trial for corruption, which was due to start on March 17.
Another has been rolling out unprecedented surveillance of the Israeli mobile telephone network, allowing the Israeli security services to monitor the telephones of the infected. Opponents of the move plan to file a challenge against it in Israel’s Supreme Court.
Israel now has 400 coronavirus cases, at least 100 of them in the last 24 hours, AP reported.
In a video statement, Lapid said: “There is no judicial branch in Israel. There is no legislative branch in Israel. There is only an unelected government that is headed by a person who lost the election. You can call that by a lot of names, it isn’t a democracy.”
After the election earlier this month, Netanyahu was left with a block of 58 lawmakers in Israel’s 120-seat Knesset, or parliament, three short of a majority. Israeli President Reuven Rivlin asked his rival, Benny Gantz – who has 61 – to try to assemble a coalition to form a new government.
But by using executive orders, Netanyahu has successfully blocked parliament from convening and Gantz from putting together a government.
“While I manage the war against the coronavirus and the fight for saving the lives of citizens of Israel,” Netanyahu said in a TV interview, ”they are only planning how to depose a prime minister.”
Yuval Noah Harari, the author of Sapiens, Homo Deus and 21 Lessons for the 21st Century, said Thursday that Netanyahu had established “the first coronavirus dictatorship.”