Without trust, we can’t beat coronavirus - analysis

When there is little trust – a recent IDI poll found 45% of Israelis are pessimistic about Israel’s ability to overcome the pandemic - there is little chance that anything can change.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu looking out a barred window (photo credit: MARC ISRAEL SELLEM)
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu looking out a barred window
(photo credit: MARC ISRAEL SELLEM)
Trust – it is one of the most important features in any society, needed so citizens will follow rules and obey the law. If the people trust their leaders, they will listen to them and heed their guidelines. If there is no trust, they won’t. It’s that simple.
Everything a leader does begins and ends with trust. It is how leaders are effective, how they get people – in a community, in a school, in a hi-tech company or on a baseball team – to work together to pursue a common goal.
The foundation of almost everything is trust. You have to trust that the police are fair, that the neighborhood grocer is not ripping you off, that your neighbors won’t break into your apartment when you are out at a movie and that your kids will be safe at school.
You also have to be able to trust your political leaders, the ones who are supposed to navigate the country during times of crisis like the one Israel finds itself in right now.
The problem is that there is very little trust right now in Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu or his government. We all feel it – talking to our families, our friends and our colleagues. It plays itself out daily on the streets of our cities where people refuse to adhere to the government-imposed restrictions – they don’t wear masks, don’t observe social distancing and continue to hold large gatherings like weddings and prayer services.
When there is so little trust – a recent Israel Democracy Institute poll found 45% of Israelis are pessimistic about Israel’s ability to overcome the pandemic – there is little chance that anything can really change.
That is why while the government allows protests to continue even during a nationwide lockdown, it is understandable why haredim cannot resolve how thousands of people can gather near Balfour Street, but they are not allowed to pray in large groups. It is understandable how Arabs can think that large weddings are okay when they watch the news and see Breslov Hassidim flocking to Uman.
People won’t abide by the rules as long as they feel that as a nation we are not in this together. And sadly, we are not.
But this can change. One of the ways to do this, as explained by David DeSteno, professor of psychology at Northeastern University and a visiting fellow at Harvard’s Center for Public Leadership, is by creating a perception of similarity.
“A powerful way to establish trust is to employ one of the mind’s most basic mechanisms for determining loyalty: the perception of similarity,” DeSteno explained in a Harvard Business Review article. “If you can make someone feel a link with you, his empathy for and willingness to cooperate with you will increase.”
Creating this link or sense of empathy is exactly where this government has failed. We saw this play out the evening of Passover when Netanyahu and President Reuven Rivlin hosted family members at their Seder while tens of thousands of people sat alone for the Seder, many for the first time in their lives.
We have seen this failure in the months since the government flip-flopped on the economic stimulus plan, changed its mind about sending kids to school and reversed and backtracked on almost every other decision that it has made throughout this pandemic.
We also saw the failure on Sunday night when following the vote in the cabinet to impose a three-week nationwide lockdown, Netanyahu addressed the nation but refused to take any of the responsibility for how Israel has found itself once again on its way to a complete closure. He spoke about his smart decisions during the first wave. But then, instead of taking responsibility for what has happened since, he blamed the Knesset, government bureaucracy and more.
We saw this lack of empathy when he finished speaking and headed to the airport, where he was joined by his sons and wife for a trip to Washington, DC.
Flying to the US on Sunday night when the ceremony is on Tuesday is the exact opposite of what DeSteno writes about. Traveling with his sons – pictured at Ben-Gurion Airport pulling large suitcases – just after announcing a lockdown that will likely lead to the shuttering of thousands of businesses shows a disconnect from the people and their suffering.
Imagine that Netanyahu had announced he was delaying his trip by a day so he could spend Monday talking to business owners, visiting their shops and personally overseeing work that is (hopefully) being done in the Finance Ministry to craft an economic relief plan.
That would have been a display of empathy and would have given people a feeling that they are not in this alone; that they have a leader who cares.
Unfortunately, that did not happen. Does this mean all is lost? No. Israelis can still grab the reins of this pandemic and understand that if we work together, if we all do our part, we can beat back the spread of this virus.
Leadership that genuinely cares and makes a point of showing it would help. But in its absence, it is incumbent upon Israelis to do the work on their own. We don’t have a choice.