Israelis must start taking responsibility for themselves - opinion

The new testing rules will test our level of collective responsibility. Will we stand up to the expectations?

 PRIME MINISTER Naftali Bennett confronts the opposition on Wednesday in the Knesset. Who was avoiding responsibility? (photo credit: MARC ISRAEL SELLEM/THE JERUSALEM POST)
PRIME MINISTER Naftali Bennett confronts the opposition on Wednesday in the Knesset. Who was avoiding responsibility?
(photo credit: MARC ISRAEL SELLEM/THE JERUSALEM POST)

Three different events took place this week that made me think about the same thing: responsibility and accountability.

The first happened on Monday night, when news broke that a Navy helicopter crashed into the Mediterranean off the coast of Haifa. People walking along the city’s promenade saw the crash, and police boats quickly reached the scene and rescued one of the crewmen. Within minutes, it was clear that the other two – the pilots – were missing, likely stuck inside and still underwater.

What happened next was a circus of irresponsibility and immaturity. Military reporters, most of them veterans of multiple conflicts, could not control themselves and started to tweet, post and report on the type of helicopter, the number of people missing, that they were likely dead, and more. MKs – including one who is the former deputy head of the Mossad – expressed condolences from the Knesset podium, at a time that the families of Lt.-Col. Erez Sachaini and Maj. Hen Fogel still did not know that something had happened to their loved ones.

No less to blame was IDF Spokesperson Brig.-Gen. Ran Kochav and the massive unit that he leads. Inside that division, the army’s public relations team believed that a messaging that worked in the 1970s was still relevant in 2022. They thought that when a helicopter goes down less than a kilometer from the Haifa coast, it would be possible to stop details from getting out.

What did Kochav do? Instead of putting out details and explaining that more would come, he tried to get reporters not to say anything. That might work when there are casualties in Lebanon or the Gaza Strip. It can’t work when there is a helicopter crash for the entire country to see.

 Part of a military helicopter that crashed off the coast of Haifa on January 3, 2021.  (credit: ALON NADAV/FLASH 90) Part of a military helicopter that crashed off the coast of Haifa on January 3, 2021. (credit: ALON NADAV/FLASH 90)

What did Kochav do the day after? He blamed the media and the MKs. Everyone but himself. Personal responsibility? Forget about it.

The same with the media. Only a handful of journalists held back on Monday night in spreading rumors about the pilots. One Yediot Aharonot reporter tweeted that even though the pilots had been recovered from underwater, it didn’t mean anything about their condition, hinting that they were dead.

The way these reporters and MKs acted reeked of irresponsibility and negligence. Was the Yediot Aharonot reporter competing with the Kan reporter for a Pulitzer Prize? When Haaretz sent out a push notification that the pilots had been rescued when their bodies were still underwater, did they think that they were going to gain some sort of fame or publicity?

For some of the media, this was all a game. The fact that two pilots had been killed and their families had yet to receive the dreaded knock on the door meant nothing.

THE NEXT event this week was on Wednesday, when the government announced a dramatic change in COVID testing and quarantining. Under the new rules, anyone under 60 and not high risk will be asked to take rapid antigen tests at home. No more PCRs and no more Health Ministry-run testing stations.

The rationale behind the new system is to free up the testing stations, which are overloaded by hundreds of thousands of citizens who find themselves being required daily – due to symptoms or contact tracing – to take a test.

The result though is a 180-degree change in the way Israel has been fighting the pandemic. If until now Israelis were constantly being supervised and told what to do, how to do it, and where, now they were being given full responsibility.

My friend, former IDF international media spokesman Peter Lerner, compared the new policy to getting a driver’s license. You take a course, you study, you pass the test and then you drive. You know the rules. Now, it is up to every driver to follow them.

The same applies here. You had dinner with someone who later turned out to be sick? It is on you to test yourself. Did you wake up not feeling well? It is up to you to take a test. If you took the test and it turned out positive but you feel fine, it is up to you whether to stay home or go to work. The same applies to what you do when your kid’s class WhatsApp group informs you that one of her or his classmates has been infected. Do you actually do a test, or do you send the child to school the next day without one?

It is all about personal responsibility and accountability: do we care about other people or just about ourselves? Are we a collective or not?

THE LAST event was what we witnessed at the Knesset on Wednesday, when Prime Minister Naftali Bennett clashed with the opposition in a reaction by an Israeli prime minister not quite ever seen before. That said, the personal attacks against Bennett and his Yamina Party are also something not seen before.

And what was the whole fight about? The Electricity Law that will allow tens of thousands of Arab homes built without permits to be hooked up to electricity, water and telephone lines. That Likud leader Benjamin Netanyahu repeatedly had his ministers issue orders when he was prime minister allowing the situation to continue was never mentioned by the opposition. Instead, they attacked Bennett for doing what has long been needed: regulating an unregulated reality.

That was the opposition’s response – to attack Bennett and Yamina for voting to legalize Arab homes, but not the illegal outposts Jewish settlers have built throughout the West Bank. It is a legitimate question, one the Likud MKs should pose to Netanyahu who as prime minister for 12 consecutive years failed to lift a hand to legalize the outposts.

But hey, why go after the person who ran the country for 12 years when you can go after the person who has been running the country for six months?

And that is what this is all about: responsibility. About who is willing to accept it and who is looking to avoid it.

That is what we saw on Monday night surrounding the helicopter crash, what we will soon see regarding testing and quarantining, and what we saw happen in the Knesset.

Israel is not known for being a country where people are held accountable. Just recall the Meron Lag Ba’Omer tragedy where 45 people were trampled to death, and still – almost a year later – not a single person has been fired, been forced to quit, or been held accountable.

Yes, there is a state-appointed commission of inquiry, but what about the 45 people who died last April? Was there not a single person who needed to take responsibility for the deaths and go home? Not one?

Sadly, Israel does not have a culture of accountability. That is why reporters say what they want about helicopter crashes, and our MKs fight the way they do in the Knesset, forgetting that there is a nation outside that is watching.

The new testing rules will test our level of collective responsibility. Will we stand up to the expectations?