“It’s insulting” is how my 16-year-old daughter responded to the news that President Reuven Rivlin had violated the coronavirus restrictions imposed on the public and hosted his daughter, son-in-law and grandchildren at the Passover Seder.Rivlin apparently wasn’t the only one. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu also hosted his son Avner who lives in an apartment nearby for the Seder. News of both violations came just a week after Health Minister Ya’acov Litzman was diagnosed with Covid-19 after he too reportedly violated the same restrictions his office was responsible for drafting.All three have come up with excuses and apologies. Litzman denied going to prayer services at someone’s home even though the person who hosted the service said he was there; Netanyahu claimed that even though Avner lives in a separate apartment with his girlfriend, it’s close by and he visits the official residence regularly; and Rivlin claimed that his family helps him over the weekend when his office staff is at home.Besides the fact that all three men are in the so-called “high-risk” category due to their ages – Rivlin is 80, Netanyahu is 72 and Litzman is 71 – their claims are a sad attempt at justifying something that cannot be justified. Does Rivlin really think that the public will believe his grandchildren help answer the office phones over Shabbat and holidays? Does Netanyahu honestly believe that because his son lives across the street then its okay to violate the guidelines he has demanded all Israeli citizens obey?While my daughter is right – their behavior is insulting – it is also something else, which is far more problematic. It shows a complete disconnect between these leaders and their people. It is as if they think there are two sets of rules in Israel – those that apply to us regular citizens, and those that apply to them. They believe that they are above the law and that they do not need to listen to the same rules the government they lead passes and enforces.How many people have been stopped over the last couple of weeks by the police for straying too far from their homes? How many drivers have been stopped at checkpoints on their way to work or the pharmacy? Who doesn’t have a mother, father or grandparent who they would have loved to have been with for Seder but understood they couldn’t because of the risk? Who doesn’t have a relative or close friend who was stuck at home alone but remained there because that is what you do when there is a plague outside?Every Israeli could have bent the rules a bit. We could have justified and rationalized these violations just like Netanyahu, Rivlin and Litzman all did. But we didn’t. We didn’t because we understood the danger and the lives that are at stake.
What Rivlin, Netanyahu and Litzman did cannot be solved by a short apology or press statement. These men need to take responsibility for their actions. How, otherwise, can we trust them going forward? There are already too many people who do not abide by the restrictions and now they’ll have a legitimate reason. If Rivlin, Netanyahu and Litzman don’t, why should they?
Our leaders’ infringements might seem small but they show a leadership that is disconnected from its people and our genuine suffering. That cannot be tolerated.