Politician Pins Panicked PM, Preserves Popular Pandemic Penalties Proposal
Israel’s embattled Alternate Prime Minister Benny Gantz, once a promising prospect for the country’s next leader and currently tumbling in the polls ahead of the March elections, notched an impressive win on Thursday, forcing Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu into a rare political defeat. Gantz stubbornly refused demands by Netanyahu and ultra-Orthodox lawmakers to water down a proposed bill hiking fines and penalties for individuals and institutions violating coronavirus lockdown instructions. The draft bill, widely supported by the general public, is expected to affect mostly ultra-Orthodox schools and organizations, who over the past few month have repeatedly flouted government shutdown orders. Netanyahu, hoping to retain the support of his ultra-Orthodox political allies, has expressed concern that the bill may alienate those lawmakers and jeopardize his reelection chances. Israel, meanwhile, is still in the midst of its worst wave yet of the coronavirus, suffering dozens of deaths each day and recording close to 10% test positivity rates. The current nationwide closure, the third imposed since the pandemic began, is set to be extended by at least one more week.