As coronavirus cases tail off, and Israel gradually returns to partial normality, two contrasting images have caused more anger than relief.On one side of the split-screen, footage of police officers forcibly removing a single surfer from the Mediterranean Sea after refusing to comply with Health Ministry restrictions. On the other side of the split-screen, long lines of customers waiting outside IKEA stores to purchase an Ypperlig table or Kleppstad wardrobe.
If a mammoth IKEA store can open its doors to the public, even if subject to social distancing guidelines, why can't a small shoe store in Kiryat Motzkin or a jewelry stand that happens to be inside Dizengoff Center?These might be examples at opposite ends of the retail spectrum, but they are sufficient to cause mass frustration and even unrest.Public cooperation has been key to ensuring Israel's success in fighting the coronavirus outbreak, and that requires the government keeping their faith and trust. That requires explanation, justification and a feeling of fairness. Why should we stay at home while others are purchasing their next coffee table?As is natural, the average citizen is only privy to some of the deliberations of the government - primarily through leaks on the evening news. Yet the key to continued success of any policy to combat the coronavirus remains public buy-in.One famous British legal principle, derived from a 1924 dangerous driving appeal case, sums up the frustration caused by the IKEA-surfer split-screen: "Not only must Justice be done; it must also be seen to be done."Ultimately, the road to the end of the coronavirus crisis will be paved by a combination of good intentions, health experts, public pressure and a fair share of errors. In the case of IKEA, permission to open the store to the public followed ministerial approval to open all home decor and furniture stores not located in malls, with the number of permitted customers based on the number of check-out terminals.A mistake? Perhaps the government should have prevented the opening of stores exceeding a certain floor area. IKEA might be a furniture store, but it is essentially a mall. In emergency laws that are black and white, the grey will always prove problematic.Turning to the 32-year-old surfer, he was unlikely to infect anyone, the pictures are not pretty and the police presence was almost certainly overkill. Yet his actions were a blatant violation of rules permitting sports activities within 500 meters of home. Other surfers had already left the water, adhering to police requests.All enforcement activity leaves room for discretion, but was there any choice here? An attitude permitting individuals to flout rules because they are alone will soon leave us with a major problem. Social media attacks on the police have become popular in recent weeks, but we ought to pick our battles wisely.If the government seeks to retain the trust of the public, then not only must the right decisions be made. It is vital that they must also be seen to be made.
A surfer is stopped by police in Tel Aviv, April 24, 2020 (Credit: Police Spokesperson)