How will Israel remember the coronavirus when it's over?

MIDDLE ISRAEL: The COVID-19 government will be counted alongside the broad governments that won the Six Day War, the war on hyperinflation and last decade’s war on Palestinian terror.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu attends the opening ceremony for the Sha’ar Hagai Memorial on the road to Jerusalem on November 29. (photo credit: ALEX KOLOMOISKY/POOL/VIA REUTERS)
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu attends the opening ceremony for the Sha’ar Hagai Memorial on the road to Jerusalem on November 29.
It’s ready to die. The virus that plagued millions, shackled billions and cost trillions is on its way to the gallows.
Now, with the vaccine’s injection on its way to everyone’s arm, we can begin sorting this bewildering disruption’s memories, into good and bad.
There actually will be some good memories when this intruder is finally dead. It will be good to remember how shuttered synagogues made thousands pray in parks, playgrounds and backyards, thus sprinkling on otherwise angry streets a measure of piety, toleration and song.
Sweet will also be the memory of the Roman Catholic Diocese of Brooklyn and ultra-Orthodoxy’s Agudath Israel petitioning the US Supreme Court in tandem, against restrictions of attendance in houses of worship.
And sweet will also be the memory of IDF paratroopers emerging in ultra-Orthodox bastions during the first lockdown, stunning and also enamoring locals when knocking on their doors with food supplies.
And happily recalled will also be the way the pandemic was defeated.
AT FIRST, some blamed the plague on globalization. With international travel as cheap, fast and widespread as it had become, infection’s spread became as dizzying as our era’s transfers of data, goods and cash, they said.
That observation was true, technically, considering that in the Middle Ages it took the Black Death 10 years to travel from China to Britain. That is why some fingered globalization as the plague’s engine, and interpreted the virus as a providential statement against the era’s dominant trend.
Well now, as the plot’s aftermath emerges through the scattering fog, this accusation is inverted. Not only did globalization not cause the pandemic – the virus caused it – globalization is actually what undid the plague.
Previous eras’ medical research was too insular to produce the kind of international effort that now generated multiple vaccines in minimum time in multiple lands, including one delivered in America by one company’s French CEO, Israeli chief medical officer and Lebanese-Armenian chairman, an intercontinental collaboration that, while now almost a banality, was unthinkable before globalization.
Obviously, when the plague finally departs, such comforting memories will be the exception for what will generally be recalled – socially, economically and politically – as a trauma.
Every country will have its unique variations of these bad memories’ familiar elements, but in their general outlines they will be similar. However, two countries’ political memories will be entirely different from the rest: Israel and the US.
THE US will be cited as the one country whose leader denied the plague’s very existence, and then became its biggest casualty. Americans were divided between their fallen leader’s fans and foes, but they will all recall the Trump-corona encounter as a trauma.
Israel will be cited as the one country that forced its pre-plague leader to fight the pandemic jointly with the leader of the opposition. As that experiment now reaches its inglorious end, it too seems ready to be recalled as a trauma.
Politically, the government that should have inspired a sense of appeasement is unraveling a mere seven months after its birth with its twin leaders loathing each other, and no marriage counselor able to make them reconcile.
Economically, this emergency government has failed to pass a budget, even while deficits yawned and unemployment soared.
Socially, the wrath that animated pre-plague demonstrations for and against Benjamin Netanyahu only intensified, generating street-level tensions on a scale not recalled here since 1981.
Finally, this experiment did little to improve Netanyahu’s moral image among his opponents, and plenty to tarnish it even among his supporters, many of whom are flocking to Naftali Bennett.
Indeed, the premature collapse of Netanyahu’s seventh government is wholly his fault, his design and his shame.
It’s his fault because it was obviously him, Netanyahu, who repeatedly prevented the passage of a budget, the most elementary tool for governing anything, which is why according to Israeli law an unpassed budget triggers an early election.
Netanyahu is also responsible for the outgoing government’s failure to appoint an Israel Police commissioner, an appalling display of administrative dereliction that further made it impossible for Netanyahu’s main coalition partner, Blue and White, to continue sailing in his ship.
That all this was not happenstance, but a cold design, is obvious, for two reasons: First, Netanyahu has given no explanation for either of these ongoing inactions. And second, he stands to benefit from an early election, which he apparently hopes to win in a way that will allow him to pass legislation that will impact the legal process he faces.
Finally, the corona government’s collapse is Netanyahu’s shame because throughout this saga he has placed himself above the national interest, and at the same damaged it severely, by undermining governance even in the face of a pandemic that debilitated thousands of households and businesses.
That, then, is why Israelis will recall the pandemic even more traumatically than others.
However, Israelis will also emerge from this political agony with one positive memory: the Israeli way, of uniting in the face of a sudden threat, was upheld.
Yes, this government sank fast and deep, but it came unstuck only after its antagonistic partners jointly fought the war on the virus, until its tide was turned. The plague was this government’s one task, and now that it has been fulfilled this government has lost its right to life.
Yes, the corona government was the strangest in Israel’s history. Even so, it will be counted alongside the broad governments that won the Six Day War, the war on hyperinflation and last decade’s war on Palestinian terror. It’s the Israeli way, and in 2020 it was upheld even in the face of a daunting confluence of constitutional, medical and economic crises.
This, too, then, will be counted among the good memories of what has otherwise been, and still remains, a national nightmare.
The writer’s bestselling Mitzad Ha’ivelet Ha’yehudi (The Jewish March of Folly, Yediot Sefarim, 2019), is a revisionist history of the Jewish people’s leadership from antiquity to modernity.