Is chutzpah plaguing Israel’s response to COVID-19? - comment

At the end of the day, a defiant public that does not listen to the health recommendations puts the country at risk.

Will Israeli chutzpah keep coronavirus around?  (photo credit: OLIVIER FITOUSSI/FLASH90)
Will Israeli chutzpah keep coronavirus around?
(photo credit: OLIVIER FITOUSSI/FLASH90)
Israel is a nation of rule breakers and as such, it is unlikely to ever be COVID-19 free.
The Jewish people in the Land of Israel are audacious. We live in the shadow of modern conflicts with the weight of the persecution of our ancestors’ past on our shoulders. It’s a personality that has driven innovation, ingenuity - that has fashioned the Start-Up Nation.
But in the battle against the novel coronavirus, the character of this tiny nation of just some 9 million inhabitants located smack dab at the center of rogue regimes is like poison.
Yes, Israelis invented MobileEye, Waze, Orcam and Diagnostic Robotics. We created the cherry tomato, the disk-on-key and an electric car network. And we did it all because we don’t follow the rules, and we don’t take no for an answer.
"Israel is booming in terms of entrepreneurship because you have a culture that allows you to challenge authority and question everything,” Google executive chairman Eric Schmidt said during a visit to the country in 2015. “You don't follow the rules.”
There is little formality or corporate hierarchy but lots of chutzpah.
At the same time, Israelis are used to living under constant threat of attack. Rockets can crush our homes or shatter our windows at any minute. Buses implode. Cars drive into crowds.  
We are scared, but we venture out anyway – because we are resilient, and we believe it won’t happen to us.
After 2,000 years of exile and the Holocaust, we feel we earned a national home in the Land that God gave us, and as such we are strong-willed and empowered. We don’t want to be “friers” – taken advantage of.
Finally, we are a small country with little space and little concept of personal space. When the elevator is full, we let two more people inside. We don’t stand in lines. We hug. We kiss on both cheeks – even if we have never met you before. We are in your face and in your business, and we are doing it out of love and kindness, thank you very much.
COVID-19 does not discriminate based on gender, sex, race or religion – and it also does not discriminate based on nationality.
The reproduction rate – the number of people a sick person infects – has hit somewhere between 0.9 and 1.0, the Health Ministry said, and it is climbing.
The reproduction rate hit a low of 0.6 less than 10 days ago. Now, before Israel has even managed to fully exit from its High Holy Day lockdown, it faces a new set of restrictions and potentially even a Hanukkah closure.
“The declining trend in the number of cases in the ultra-Orthodox sector has stopped in some locations,” The head of the ultra-Orthodox division in the Health Ministry, Maj.-Gen. (ret.) Roni Numa said Tuesday.
He said that residents are failing to be tested and yeshiva students are often seen without wearing masks.
Ultra-Orthodox leaders have called on their people to defy the rules and the government has, in most cases, turned a blind eye while students return to school, gathering together and spreading infection.
Getting the haredim to comply with the restrictions means using enforcement, either through police or fines. Yet, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu pandered to the threats by United Torah Judaism MKs and tabled a proposal to double coronavirus fines – leaving the country with little recourse.
Netanyahu’s key priority now is subverting the legal process he is facing, not battling the pandemic, and for this he needs the haredim.
At the same time, the Arab sector has taken the law into its own hands, traveling to Palestinian-controlled areas A and B to hold large weddings and other celebrations.
On Saturday, Ayman Saif, the head of the fight against the coronavirus in the Arab sector, said that 6% of Arab-Israelis screened for coronavirus test positive, compared to 2% in the rest of society. Army Radio reported Tuesday that 40% of infected people are Arab.
Despite closures being placed on several Arab towns and cities, like a broken tape, week after week, outgoing coronavirus commissioner Prof. Ronni Gamzu travels to a different Arab city and begs its residents to listen to the rules - to believe they can get sick, too.
“Arab society must control itself,” said Gamzu during a visit to Kafr Kara. “You should hold off on the weddings, because there is no way to hold them without more funerals." He also said, “The Arab customs that I love, the coronavirus also loves, and they have become dangerous to our health. We cannot continue to deny the existence of coronavirus and behave as usual.”
On a recent visit to Tel Aviv, the streets were packed with commuters, people hanging out without masks as if the Pfizer vaccine had been delivered to Israel and there was no further threat to our health.
And, of course, the high number of public officials who have broken Health Ministry regulations to barely a slap on the wrist has taught the people that not following the rules is OK, and that following the rules makes you a frier.
But at the end of the day, a defiant public that does not listen to the health recommendations puts the country at risk.
Can the entire nation undergo a personality change? Or is the infection rate going to continue rising and the Start-Up Nation locking down?