Yamina leader Naftali Bennet on Tuesday lashed out at the government, accusing it of celebrating the end of the lockdown as if it was the liberation of Jerusalem but ignoring the death of 5,400 Israelis from COVID-19.
Israel began emerging from a six-week long third lockdown last week and was set to see more restrictions on businesses and schools lifted from next week.
Speaking to Ynet, Bennett accused ministers of misleading the public.
"We are 180th among nations in terms of fatalities from coronavirus," the former defense minister said.
"The prime minister claims we will be the first out of the pandemic? That is not true," he said.
"New Zealand, Australia and Taiwan are open even without vaccines and lock down only in isolated instances. Taiwan is more crowded than Israel but unlike our government, theirs has managed the pandemic well," he said.
"Statements like the one made by Finance Minister Israel Katz recently that we have had our last lockdown is a joke. There is no long-term planning," Bennett said.
Bennett said that with one million unemployed Israelis, the government is spending money in its mishandling of the health and economic crisis that the citizenry will ultimately have to repay.
The Yamina leader added his voice to those calling on the public to get vaccinated, but said vaccines cannot be the only solution.
"I wake up every day praying that there will not be a new mutation that will be immune to the existing vaccines," he said. "We've already seen vaccines be less effective with against the South African variant."
Bennett said that with one million unemployed the government is spending money the citizens will have to repay in its mishandling of the health and economic crisis.
"Leaders must show some common sense," he said.
"Ultra-Orthodox coalition partners cannot run the show, and the notion that they can do as they please is unacceptable," he said, referring to the routine flouting of health regulations in some Haredi communities.
"They are not the only ones behaving as if there is no law. The Bedouins in the south of the country do the same," he said.
Bennet would not say if he would join a coalition led by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu after the March 23 elections.
"Unlike others, I am not motivated by hate," he said. "The more politicians say they will shun Netanyahu, the more likely they are to join his coalition.
"My rule is that I am true to my word. I will form a new government, but I am pragmatic and know I need a greater support from the public."
After criticizing his other political opponents - former Netanyahu ally Gideon Saar and Yesh Atid leader Yair Lapid - whom he said were not qualified to lead Israel out of the current crisis, Bennet said that unlike the prime minister, he had refused to accept extremists such as Itamar Ben-Gvir into his party.
Ben-Gvir, a disciple of racist rabbi Meir Kahane, joined with former minister Bezalel Smotrich to form the Religious Zionist Party at the urging of the prime minister in order to boost his chances to form the next coalition after the March 23 elections.
"There is an ideological gulf between me and those who do not regard Israel as both Jewish and democratic," Bennett said.
First published: 16:05 , 02.16.21