First week of coronavirus shutdown in Israel – opinion

It looks as if the system is rapidly finding its hands and feet, though there appears to be disagreement among the experts about the priorities

General view of the empty square outside the Jaffa Gate in the Old City of Jerusalem on March 16, 2020. For Fear of Coronavirus, Israel Closes all Borders decreasing the number of tourits. The government orders all bars, restaurants and malls to close in an effort to contain the spread of virus. (photo credit: OLIVIER FITOUSSI/FLASH90)
General view of the empty square outside the Jaffa Gate in the Old City of Jerusalem on March 16, 2020. For Fear of Coronavirus, Israel Closes all Borders decreasing the number of tourits. The government orders all bars, restaurants and malls to close in an effort to contain the spread of virus.
(photo credit: OLIVIER FITOUSSI/FLASH90)
In most ways I am one of the fortunate ones. I am retired, and my monthly income is as secure as can be: budgetary pension, plus national security, plus savings that have taken a 25% fall due to the state of the stock markets. But to go by the 2008 financial crisis, will rise again in due course.
I live in 100 square meters on my own so I have plenty of space to move about undisturbed. At the same time I am well connected to my neighbors and immediate family, even though the latter are not close by. I am active on my house committee, which keeps me busy. I am working on several academic projects in addition to journalistic writing, and a botanical website (Flora) into which I have hundreds of photographs to download. There are branches of Shufersal and Super-Pharm just across the street, and a delicatessen just around the corner. Most important of all, I am healthy.
Like everyone else I am getting used to the new reality and strict restrictions, thinking a lot of the short- and long-term ramifications of the current pandemic and catastrophic economic consequences. Realizing that at the age of 76 I am in the highest risk category to contract the virus, I appreciate the fact that at least at this stage of the crisis “The Powers That Be” (TPTB) seem concerned with protecting us and treating us medically, if necessary, rather than viewing us as expendable excess baggage.
Quite naturally, TPTB cannot help but think of the population as aggregate groups, rather than as individuals, though one would expect them to show some minimal sensitivities at the micro level. Thus, every time I hear the Health Ministry director-general Moshe Bar Siman Tov give his almost daily report, I wonder why he does not address us directly, as part of the public that is to take special precautions, rather than refer to us indirectly as "your parents and grandparents" when he addresses the younger generations, and tells them to avoid visiting us, inviting us to family meals, etc.
I assume he means well, and in the case of elderly people who are in poor physical and cognitive shape (what percentage of the over-65s are they?), he is justified in his approach. However, his tone and general attitude are insulting and painful to those of us who are "with it" and still fully active. Does he forget that the prime minister - beloved by many and detested by a majority - is 70 years old? Is he too to be isolated for his own good (or ours)?
I look at this rather good-looking, affirmative, outwardly emotionless 46-year-old man, and keep asking myself whether TPTB couldn't find a slightly older, more experienced, more sensitive and sympathetic individual to act as chief professional spokesman?
This is all the more critical given that his partners in the task are the prime minister, who is busy giving self-adulation performances in which he supplies plenty of inaccurate, selective information; the health minister, a part of whose constituency is scandalously disobedient to his ministry’s instructions, thus endangering us all; the finance minister, who is a walking, political dead man, and the education minister who can't even get a proper on-line teaching mechanism working for Israel's secluded children.
What about the preparedness of Israel's health system for the coronavirus pandemic? First of all, no one, anywhere in the world, was prepared for the pandemic when it fell upon all of us, though, as in the case of potential weather catastrophes associated with global warming, there should have been a little more preparedness for a potential major pandemic event, which some experts have been predicting for years.
It looks as if the system is rapidly finding its hands and feet, though there appears to be disagreement among the experts about the priorities, as between increasing the testing of the population, providing medical personnel with appropriate protective equipment, and preparing for the possible need to hospitalize thousands of new patients, many of whom might require artificial ventilation devices.
TWO MAIN conclusions are unavoidable. The first is that the government will have to be much more involved in the health system than it was before the current crisis emerged - both budget-wise and policy-wise. A neoliberal approach is simply ineffective, since it leads to a business approach to medicine, which means that resources are poured into profitable branches which are not necessarily important from a general public health point of view. It is really a matter of finding the right balance between the laissez faire and social democratic approaches.
The second conclusion is that while the allocations of ministerial posts in coalition governments are frequently not only far from being professionally optimal, they are all too frequently outright scandalous.
In the case of the health minister, the choice should not be between a prime minister inclined to accumulate portfolios, and the member of a small sectorial party, which prefers to avoid taking full political responsibility for anything since it rejects the principle of collective responsibility. Rather, it should be between a political figure with proven administrative experience, and a non-political professional.
Which leads me to the political mess. As a result of the coronavirus pandemic, Israel needs, much more urgently than before; a unity government based primarily, if not exclusively, on Blue and White and the Likud.
The problem is that there is no trust between the two sides. Two members of Blue and White's cockpit - Yair Lapid and Moshe Ya'alon - carry scars from their experience as ministers in Netanyahu's third and fourth governments, respectively. And despite the current health, economic and political crises, they refuse to even consider joining a government in which Netanyahu will serve as prime minister for any length of time.
Benny Gantz and Gabi Ashkenazi are apparently willing to consider what appears to be a very generous offer by Netanyahu for a three-year unity government. They cannot but suspect Netanyahu's motives, because it is Gantz who was called upon by President Reuven Rivlin last Monday to form Israel's next government, after 61 MKs had recommended him, compared to 58 MKs who recommended Netanyahu.
Common sense says it is Gantz who should make an offer to Netanyahu - not the other way around.
The Likud does not trust Blue and White because it seems willing (at least theoretically) to consider forming a minority government supported from the outside by the Joint (Arab) List. It is also because Blue and White does not hide its plan to force the current (unelected) Knesset Speaker MK Yuli Edelstein (Likud) to enable the Knesset today, or later this week, to elect MK Meir Cohen from Blue and White as the new Speaker, and to establish a new Arrangements Committee that will establish the 23rd Knesset's permanent committees, in each of which the members of the anti-Bibi bloc will constitute a majority.
According to Netanyahu, if Blue and White realizes this plan, his offer for a unity government will vanish.
All this has happened during the first week of the shutdown.