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Israeli Health Czar said weighing stepping down as Treasury chief announces resignation

Health Ministry director Moshe Bar Siman-Tov is considering stepping down from his post and will decide in the coming days, the Ynet news site reports.

Meanwhile Finance Ministry Director-General Shai Babad, who has also been a central figure in financial policy throughout the crisis, said he intends to step down with the swearing-in of a new government.

According to a Ynet report Monday, Bar Siman-Tov’s decision will depend largely on who is appointed health minister in the next government, which is set to be sworn in Thursday.

The report also noted that the next health minister can appoint a new ministry director-general, with Bar Siman-Tov not guaranteed the position. A source in the health system suggested that this detail factored into Bar Siman-Tov’s thinking.

“If the next minister doesn’t want him, he’ll say he wanted to quit,” the unnamed source said.

The report comes days after the cabinet voted to significantly ease restrictions on movement, including to allow Israelis to once again use outdoor gyms, against the recommendation of Bar Siman-Tov.

As the Health Ministry’s top bureaucrat, he was responsible for leading many of the tough early steps to restrict Israel’s public life, and was initially credited in spearheading the country’s efficient response that prevented mass infection.

Lately, he has come under fire for what critics inside and outside the government have said was an overly restrictive approach to ease restrictions and salvage the economy as infection numbers ebbed. He has been a target of criticism from unnamed ministers.

Bar Siman-Tov has reportedly feuded with outgoing Defense Minister Naftali Bennett, who unsuccessfully pushed throughout the crisis for his ministry to lead the fight against the virus and is now eyeing the Health Ministry.

Litzman announced last month that he would not continue in the post in the next government, and instead move to the Housing Ministry, opening up the position to a new minister.

The announcement from Litzman, head of the ultra-Orthodox United Torah Judaism party, came after he faced criticism over his response to the coronavirus pandemic and a TV report alleged that he took part in group prayer that violated his own ministry’s directives days before he was infected with COVID-19, as well as for reportedly resisting the closure of synagogues and other religious institutions.

The health ministry director has taken a hardline approach in favor of broadly shutting down the country since the beginning of the pandemic and has sparred with Finance Ministry officials who have warned that such drastic measures could destroy the economy and that if the country is not reopened soon enough, it will be difficult to recover from the impending recession.

Ministers have also reportedly criticized Bar Siman Tov for having too much influence over the government’s handling of the pandemic.

Header: Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, with Health Ministry director-general Moshe Bar Siman-Tov, at a press conference about the coronavirus, at the Ministry of Health in Jerusalem, on March 4, 2020. (Olivier Fitoussi/ Flash90)