Coronavirus corruption: Israel’s inexcusable failure - opinion

It is simply unconscionable that Israel has spent more time in lockdown than any other nation in the world and yet it still doesn’t have the COVID-19 pandemic under control.

A man smiles under his mask outside Jerusalem’s Rebar fruit juice stand.  Since the start of this pandemic most of us a have been, to some degree, consumed by the fear of infection and spread of disease. (photo credit: MARC ISRAEL SELLEM)
A man smiles under his mask outside Jerusalem’s Rebar fruit juice stand. Since the start of this pandemic most of us a have been, to some degree, consumed by the fear of infection and spread of disease.
(photo credit: MARC ISRAEL SELLEM)
It is simply unconscionable that Israel has spent more time in lockdown than any other nation in the world and yet it still doesn’t have the COVID-19 pandemic under control.
While it’s true that Israel has fared better than some other nations when it comes to the pandemic, there have been numerous inexcusable failures at multiple levels – from the highest levels of government to civil society. Our representatives made cowardly decisions, over and over again, and the people are still paying the price. This election we must hold our elected officials accountable.
In the past year, there were several flash points at which Israel made costly mistakes in the handling of this crisis – politically motivated decisions that cost the public both in health and economy.
Nearly a year ago, I wrote an article praising the government for acting swiftly to implement a strict lockdown. This was the first such lockdown, and was necessary to prevent a major coronavirus outbreak.
Yet two things went wrong. The first, that the public did not take it seriously and acted irresponsibly, from the secular communities to the Arab communities to the haredi communities. The second, that the government refused to close the airport and allowed case after case to be welcomed into Israel before we even had adequate testing measures in place. The government placed restrictions on its own public, while actively importing coronavirus at Ben-Gurion Airport, because it would have been politically unpopular to shutter the airport.
But even after the first lockdown, the government didn’t act appropriately with the airport. When restrictions were lifted inside Israel during the summer months, in a move that even Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has admitted was a mistake, the airport still remained open, as thousands of cases poured in from Turkey and other popular destinations for Israelis. Once it became clear the cases were out of control, the government again chose to place restrictions on Israelis with a second and third lockdown, but still didn’t shut down the airport, even when mutations began being reported.
This government has spent the last year oppressing its own people, while simultaneously putting them at risk with its cowardice in taking necessary action.
Only now, after nearly a year, Netanyahu has endorsed closing the airport, coincidentally when there is a solution in sight with the vaccine rollout, which just so happens to coincide with when we have yet another election.
But the airport was far from the only failure of this government. Of course, the rapid reopening of schools in May was catastrophic for the spread of coronavirus, but from the beginning the government refused to enforce restrictions on certain communities that live and worship in high density environments, making the spread of COVID-19 almost inevitable.
It was not politically convenient for Netanyahu to crack down hard on the haredi sector, so the government didn’t enforce the law when weddings, funerals and protests occurred. When the experts advised prohibiting travel to Uman, for example, Netanyahu was against it – until the haredi political parties, which Netanyahu relies on in the coalition, put their foot down. Then, Netanyahu demanded a compromise. Repeatedly, Netanyahu himself ended up groveling at the hands of religious leaders, asking them to follow the law instead of acting with the conviction of a leader.
Another failure was the refusal to prohibit protests because “it is a democratic right.” But don’t fool yourself into thinking that this government cares about democratic rights. Netanyahu himself advocated shutting down protests at one point, but Blue and White, acting in its own political interest, bitterly fought against the recommendation, calling it a violation of basic rights. Yet even Netanyahu admitted, “from a political perspective, not only do these delusional and anarchistic demonstrations fail to hurt me, they actually help me.” Indeed, the more protests that occurred during lockdowns and the more cases rose, the more Netanyahu could deflect blame.
The failure to ban protests, even for a state of emergency, and the selective enforcement of restrictions in repeated lockdowns, meant that the entire public couldn’t take government decisions seriously. The anti-Netanyahu protests raged on, mass funerals and weddings in the haredi and Arab sectors continued, and COVID-19 cases skyrocketed. In September, Israel became the leading country in infections per capita, and became the prime example of what countries shouldn’t do.
The price of these government decisions has been paid by the public in unemployment, mental illness, domestic violence, a rise in crime (in particular, murder of women) and, of course, coronavirus cases.
Where’s the accountability? How long will citizens continue to put up with elected officials who are supposed to be serving us, but who instead appear to be acting solely in their own interests? The State of Israel needs accountability from the government.
The writer is the CEO of Social Lite Creative LLC.


Tags lockdown