Lessons from the snow snafu

Now that the snow has melted, the blame game begins; Bennett finds positivity, says he witnessed 'beautiful solidarity' during weather crisis while other MK's and citizens reflect on last weekend's failures.

Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu and J'lem Mayor Barkat 390 (photo credit: Haim Zach / GPO)
Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu and J'lem Mayor Barkat 390
(photo credit: Haim Zach / GPO)
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: Michael Bilandic.
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 job.
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.
Interestingly, 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 disaster.
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.
On a 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.
Ironically, hospitals, armies and police forces from around the world regularly come to Israel to learn how to handle emergencies and mass-casualty incidents.
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 suburbs.
Lower-level electric company workers did not make much of an impression on the residents they tried unsuccessfully to help.
On the 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 on Twitter.
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.
Liberman 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 circumstances.
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.