Netanyahu Has Hijacked Israel’s Coronavirus Response, Sidelining Top Health Experts

Management of the biggest public health crisis in the country’s history is being taken out of health officials’ hands by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, health officials familiar with the situation said.

What began a few weeks ago as questions by health care professionals has become criticism that bubbles under the surface and is threatening to burst into the open, exposing a flawed decision-making process that is having an unprecedented impact on Israelis’ daily lives.

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The public may believe that the coronavirus crisis is being managed through professional deliberations at which a variety of opinions are voiced, but that isn’t the case, the sources said. In reality, both senior Health Ministry officials and the ministry’s task force on epidemics have been excluded from the discussions.

The coronavirus crisis is being run by Netanyahu and a few officials who support his views. Health Minister Yaakov Litzman is out of the picture, the sources said.

One key member of Netanyahu’s team is Prof. Ran Balicer, who heads the research institute of the Clalit health maintenance organization and is its director of health policy planning. He is also an adviser to the Health Ministry on infectious disease, epidemiology, health policy and emergency preparedness. In his media appearances, he supports harsh measures to slow the spread of the virus.

The team also includes Prof. Yitshak Kreiss, director of the Sheba Medical Center in Tel Hashomer, and sometimes Prof. Shmuel Shapira, director of the Israel Institute for Biological Research. The Health Ministry is represented by its director general, Moshe Bar Siman Tov, and its director of public health services, Prof. Sigal Sadetsky.

But no one on this decision-making team has training or experience in handling infectious diseases and epidemics.