When the Carmel Fire broke out three years ago, Prime Minister
Binyamin Netanyahu boasted that via Google, he had found a plane that could help
put out the fire.
Disgruntled Jerusalem residents complained over the
past week that Netanyahu and their mayor, former hi-tech venture capitalist Nir
Barkat, should have googled “snowplows.”
While online, Barkat could learn
important lessons by googling a name he probably does not know but should:
Bilandic was the mayor of Chicago during the great
blizzard of January 1979, in which some 48 centimeters of snow fell in the city,
including a record 42 in one day.
It took weeks for the city to clear the
snow, public transportation systems broke down, and when Chicago voters went to
the polls a month later, they did not forget or forgive. Bilandic was out of a
Luckily for Barkat, he was reelected to a five-year term just two
months ago. The next election is far away, giving Jerusalemites plenty of time
to forgive and forget, and Barkat time to study what needs to be done to ready
the capital for the next storm.
When Barkat was asked this week who was
to blame for the snow snafus that plagued the city, he said it was too soon to
say. He told reporters that Israel was very good at writing reports, but he
needed to concentrate on spearheading the city’s recovery.
Shas leader Arye Deri, who tried to unseat Barkat two months ago, said the same
thing when he called for the formation of a state commission of inquiry. He said
the commission should not be asked to draw personal conclusions about public
officials, because what mattered was not “heads rolling” but ensuring that
lessons would be learned and implemented before the next natural
Now that the snow has melted for the most part, the blame game
– which started with the first car stranded on the Jerusalem-Tel Aviv highway –
can now begin in earnest.
State Comptroller Joseph Shapira said he would
write a report, MKs want a parliamentary inquiry, and Barkat vowed to learn
lessons on his own.
Among the questions likely to be asked include why
the huge amount of snow that fell was not predicted, why non-residents of
Jerusalem were not discouraged from coming, why the exits from the city were
clogged so fast, and why it took so long to remove abandoned cars from the
highways and open them up again.
Barkat was interviewed on dirt-digger
trucks ahead of the snowstorm, which did not appear to be intended to plow snow.
Roads were not salted ahead of the storm, as they are in cities abroad. Is that
because our streets are made differently, or because such a step was deemed
unnecessary? Does the city own snow blowers? And what about old-fashioned
shovels? Perhaps Jerusalem’s team of parking ticket writers, who did not work
during the storm, could have been sent to shovel the streets.
national level, Public Security Minister Yitzhak Aharonovitch and Home Front
Defense Minister Gilad Erdan admitted in interviews that their ministries were
not ready for such a large storm.
While that could be understood,
especially in Erdan’s small and ill-equipped ministry, Israel has plenty of
plans for other kinds of emergencies and disasters.
hospitals, armies and police forces from around the world regularly come to
Israel to learn how to handle emergencies and mass-casualty
Can they return the favor by teaching us how to handle an
unexpected volume of snow? The first to pay the price for the botched blizzard
were Israel Electric Corporation engineers, who went to a conference in Eilat
instead of helping the efforts to bring power back to Jerusalem and its
Lower-level electric company workers did not make much of an
impression on the residents they tried unsuccessfully to help.
political level, the storm could cause Erdan and Defense Minister Moshe Ya’alon
to finally settle their differences over what the Home Front Defense Ministry
does and whether it should continue to exist. Volunteering to close the
ministry, which Yossi Beilin did to two ministries he led, would be a bold move
by Erdan that could make him a national darling like his predecessor as
communications minister, Moshe Kahlon.
Netanyahu was criticized for
talking too much and doing too little during the storm.
But like other
mini-crises, he weathered the storm and did not even mention it during a long
speech at Wednesday night’s Likud convention. Chances are that for him, there
will be no “snowfallout” - a combination of two words that became one this week
The prime minister this week averted potential crises with
Yesh Atid in the Knesset, and prevented the Likud Central Committee from ending
his bond with Yisrael Beytenu’s Avigdor Liberman. Netanyahu’s victory not only
prevented Liberman from bolting and leaving Likud with just 20 MKs, it also
avoided a situation in which a Liberman in the opposition would have had to
swerve Right and prevent the advancement of the diplomatic process with the
Palestinians, which he helps facilitate inside the coalition.
had a great week, in which the partnership with Likud was maintained and
Attorney-General Yehuda Weinstein decided not to appeal his acquittal on
corruption charges. An unfettered Liberman can help resolve tension between
Netanyahu and Yesh Atid leader Yair Lapid, and between Lapid and his former
ally, Bayit Yehudi leader Naftali Bennett.
Bennett summarized the
positive lessons that can be learned from the storm in a speech at the Knesset.
He told his faction about the beautiful solidarity he had witnessed among the
country’s citizens from diverse backgrounds.
Jew and Arab, ultra-Orthodox
and ultra-secular, rich and poor, they all got stuck on the same streets
together, and they all ended up helping each other. Sometimes it takes a natural
disaster to unite a very divided society.
Jerusalemites, like Chicagoans,
know how to come together in crises, just like they known how to kvetch in
unison. They showed their good side over the past week under difficult
Chicago recovered from its blizzard and continued to
thrive. Only if Barkat keeps his promise to learn lessons – and buys some real
snow plows – will he be remembered more fondly than Bilandic.