How Israel fell from its coronavirus pedestal – analysis

With Israel's new daily coronavirus cases topping 1,000, the international community is looking to the country as an example of what not to do.

Beachgoers hang out at the shore of the Mediterranean Sea in Tel Aviv as coronavirus disease (COVID-19) restrictions ease in Israel May 21, 2020 (photo credit: AMIR COHEN/REUTERS)
Beachgoers hang out at the shore of the Mediterranean Sea in Tel Aviv as coronavirus disease (COVID-19) restrictions ease in Israel May 21, 2020
(photo credit: AMIR COHEN/REUTERS)
Israel was lauded around the world for its swift action against the novel coronavirus in March, which led to low rates of illness and death. But with new cases topping 1,000 daily and more than half of the sick becoming infected in just the last 40 days, according to the Health Ministry, Israel has fallen from its pedestal and the international community is now looking to the country as an example of what not to do.
Israelis are banned from entering several countries, including European Union nation states – and Israel is on Germany’s list of high-risk countries, which means that anyone from Israel who is permitted to enter must spend 14 days in quarantine.
Earlier this week, The Washington Post ran an article by its Jerusalem bureau chief Steve Hendrix in which he wrote that “Israelis across the political spectrum are asking what’s gone wrong and demanding to know how their government could have fumbled so badly after getting it so right.
“Health and policy experts, while crediting the government for dampening the virus’s spread in the spring, cite a raft of failures for its summer resurgence,” Hendrix explained. Later, he quoted opposition leader Yair Lapid, who said last week that: “We are the only country in the world that is less prepared for the second wave than it was for the first.”
A few days before, a Sky News report ran with the headline, “Coronavirus: Britain beware – Israel living the consequences of trying to return to normal,” in which the outlet’s Middle East correspondent told readers that in the just over a month since Israelis were allowed back to bars, restaurants, beaches and shops, they were already breaking regulations.
“As the days passed, human nature set in,” wrote Mark Stone. “Masks were routinely round the chin, not the face. Two meters quickly turned into one, then half. And as the weather turned hotter, the beaches became even more crowded.
“At the beginning of this week, Israel [a country of only 8.6 million people] had 450 new cases,” he continued. “By Thursday night it was recording 1,000 new cases – the most it has ever recorded in a single day. The peak now is higher than the first one.”
He then warned his own country: “Beware, the UK is a few weeks behind Israel.”
Germany’s Deutsche Zeitung told how Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu boasted that world leaders contacted Israel to learn how to handle the coronavirus crisis, but “now Israel has slid back.” The paper called the situation in Israel “severe.”
The French paper Le Figaro wrote similarly that Israel was a “model pupil” in March and that since restrictions were lifted, the country “has turned into a disaster.”
“Managing the crisis well was a strategic asset and we were handling it well in terms of building goodwill towards Israel,” said Joanna Landau, the CEO and founder of Vibe Israel, which had a report conducted for it showing that the Jewish state’s image was seen in a positive light during the first wave of the pandemic. “It’s a shame Israel’s handling of the crisis has deteriorated after how well it started.”
Vibe Israel is a nonprofit organization that, according to its website, aims to strengthen the connection between the next-gen Jewish Diaspora and Israel.
The survey, based on data from research done by Bloom Consulting from March 30-April 2 and utilizing a new type of measurement called Brand-Nought, analyzed how a country was perceived internationally based on its government’s handling of the coronavirus crisis. This analysis focused on image impact in four specific areas: whether people would want to visit the country (tourism), whether people would want to work in or live in the country, whether people would want to study in the country and whether people would want to buy products from the country.
When compared to over 140 countries, Israel was found to have a positive image, especially compared to countries like Italy and the United States.
Landau believes that there were three aspects that contributed to Israel having such a positive image: reacting quickly, keeping quarantine seriously and being one of the countries involved in the race to develop a vaccine.
However, with the situation changing in June and July – and the recent, uncontrollable spike in cases – Landau believes that, “If the study was done again now, we wouldn’t be doing as well.”
In May, restrictions were fully lifted and Israelis were asked to do three things: wear masks, keep distance and maintain good hygiene. Their failure to do so and the government’s delayed reaction has led to the number of daily cases surging past 1,000.
Israel is suffering the consequences of these decisions, Landau said, both in terms of the growing rate of serious patients and also in terms of its image to the world.
“The problem is that it’s very time-limited, as it is entirely dependent on how the government is handling the crisis within the specific time frame the research was conducted – and this particular outbreak is especially volatile, because everything can change in just two weeks,” she said.
But she believes that Israel might have a chance of salvaging its image. But she said doing so depends on its leaders.
“If the government does not manage to fix what is going on now, then it is going to continue to create a lot of negative press. If the government continues squabbling about issues unrelated to coronavirus and it affects its ability to manage the crisis well, then it will not be good for Israel’s image,” she explained.
“If it manages to fix the situation quickly, then there is certainly an argument to be made to say that we were the first country that opened up, saw the situation spiral out of control quickly and closed it back down.
“Someone needs to manage Israel’s image,” Landau concluded.
The Government Press Office declined to comment.