Ehud Olmert to 'Post': Netanyahu must stop with the scare tactics

Bibi must leave, and Gantz and Ashkenazi must return to their party. The masses of the House of Israel who are strong and healthy, and full of energy and goodwill, must be allowed to return to work.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu threatened of a total lockdown as coronavirus infects 2,369 Israelis (photo credit: AMOS BEN-GERSHOM/GPO)
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu threatened of a total lockdown as coronavirus infects 2,369 Israelis
(photo credit: AMOS BEN-GERSHOM/GPO)
We can’t look ahead to the future until we step back for a second and survey what’s happened (or more importantly what has not happened) in the past.
On January 24, The Washington Times published an article about COVID-19 that raised the possibility that the virus could spread and turn into an epidemic. According to the article, the source of the virus was a research center near Wuhan, China. Based on the description in the article, it seemed likely that the virus would probably continue spreading.
Life experience teaches us that when an unknown virus starts to spread, it is likely to cause mass sickness. We’d already experienced one such occurrence in China with the SARS outbreak, which has striking similarities to the COVID-19. Thousands of people died from SARS, but the spread was stemmed relatively quickly.
The Times’ article was not the first publication to discuss the COVID-19 outbreak. Details had already been published on previous days. It was a premonition of the danger that lay ahead of the virus’s spread.
I do not know how alert other countries around the world were to the initial news reports about COVID-19. It’s probably correct to assume, by what we saw in later days, that they were not especially worried, as there was practically no response, and it seemed as if most countries were outright ignoring the updates.
I know that in Israel, no one seemed to be addressing the issue. On the first day the news of the virus was published, the Health Ministry did not hold a special meeting; no governmental headquarters were set up to assess the situation, to determine the level of expected danger from the spread of the virus, to estimate what the implications of the spread of the virus could be, to define the dangers, to identify goals, to test various scenarios of what might happen once the virus spreads, and to prepare for all of the possible scenarios.
If such a meeting had been held by a serious governmental body, the State of Israel would be in a completely different situation than it is today. But that never happened. Everything that’s currently happening – being quarantined at home, mass unemployment that is threatening the Israeli economy and society, the large number of citizens who are sick and the disruption of life in general – began with this one simple and elementary fact: Such a meeting never took place.
If that meeting had taken place, the individuals participating in it would have reached the inevitable conclusion that we must check our warehouses and count how many ventilators we have, estimate how many we might need in the extreme case that the virus spreads rapidly, and then immediately purchase however many more we needed.
The same process should have been followed with respect to other equipment, including protective gear, face masks, sterilizers and medication. In short, everything that would be essential in a crisis situation of a virus outbreak, as is actually happening now. If the people responsible for Israel’s health system had done their jobs properly, it’s possible that all of the warehouses would have been fully equipped and stocked with the necessary equipment and been ready to provide services in a timely manner. In other words, they could have begun testing patients two months ago.
If they had been equipped with the proper equipment as they should have been, or if they had quickly moved to purchase the kits within a few days, the warehouses would have been full. In that case, there wouldn’t have been any problem to purchase respirators, ventilators and test kits.
BACK IN January we could have carried out thousands of tests. If today we’re talking about carrying out 30,000 tests a day, it’s clear that if we had been properly organized ahead of time, we could even be carrying out 50,000 tests a day. Within a few weeks, we could have tested the entire population and then mapped out the results according to age group, population centers, intensity of spread and severity of infection.
An effective, restrained and level-headed system would have identified all the individuals who had been infected with the COVID-19, organized a quarantine for them either at their home or in a place that was set up especially for this purpose so that they could heal, while taking necessary precautions not to let the virus spread more. If this had been done, healthy residents would have been able to continue working and keeping the economy afloat and unemployment to a minimum, so that we could continue living a normal lifestyle.
Unfortunately, none of this happened, because the State of Israel has been focused for over a year on just one single topic: elections. Is the prime minister willing to disrupt all of our lives, to undermine all of our country’s institutions, to threaten all of the basic norms that we’ve always lived by, while he continues to cling to the reins of power with every ounce of strength he has left? This struggle has become the symbol of the decadent life Benjamin Netanyahu lives on Balfour Street.
The activities of the last two months do not reflect a proper, careful and responsible management of the COVID-19 crisis. Inducing panic is one of the most effective ways of blurring the years-long neglect by the healthcare system, as opposed to the level of medical care in Israel, which is among the best in the world, with the best doctors, nurses and paramedics, all of whom are trained, skilled and dedicated.
Everything that is being done in the public sphere does not come from a controlled and responsible assessment of the country’s needs, but from the inevitable slide that begins with one early failure and then continues with cover-ups of that failure, which only serves to intensify the threat instead of restraining it.
There’s no clearer example of this than the announcement made by Netanyahu, the temporary prime minister, that by the end of April, one million Israelis will have contracted the virus, and 10,000 will have died from it. Yes, that is what he dramatically announced on Saturday night, March 21, during his nightly broadcast.
These were vain, far-fetched and baseless remarks that were said in an effort to scare and justify the extreme measures that had been used to create the feeling of threat and encourage the public to panic, which would then lead to mechanical obedience on the one hand, as well as a desire to be dependent upon a father figure who would save and protect us. This is the atmosphere that the temporary prime minister has been trying to fashion among the public in these last few weeks in his nightly TV performances.
I am now taking the full responsibility, and perhaps the risk, upon myself to say the following words clearly and publicly: One million people in Israel will not contract COVID-19 (probably not even 10% of this amount), and there will not be 10,000 deaths (not even 10% of this amount).
These threats are part of a well-planned strategy of intimidation used to intentionally generate panic and confusion. Under other circumstances, if a person acted in this way, especially on live TV, he would be suspected of and interrogated for trying to bring about chaos and disrupt life throughout the nation. Luckily, it still seems that in a democratic country this is not allowed.
It’s possible that in the near future, if Netanyahu’s machinations come to fruition, and Israel’s Supreme Court is silenced, the prosecution disbanded, and the police eviscerated, the government will then be capable of doing anything it wants to its political opponents. Perhaps we are not so far from the realization of such a reality.
SO, WHAT do we do now? What we should have done two months ago: Carry out mass testing of selected population groups, according to classification based on occupation, with an emphasis on certain communities, in order to balance the needs of social and economic needs and the ability to provide essential services, first and foremost in the field of health. We must identify all residents who are sick and enable them to quarantine themselves so that we can protect everyone else and so that people can continue to go out to work.
Yes, that’s right – we must stop this harebrained confinement, put an end to these restrictions that are driving all of us crazy, let people go outside and breathe fresh air, return to their places of work, and restore the country to normalcy. In short: we need to stop with the scare tactics.
I hear the incessant talk of the commentators, experts, and most of all, the nightly performances by the lead actor, the temporary prime minister. I say the following without hesitation: These unnecessary performances do not represent a real need. This atmosphere of panic is being used as a device to control us.
The current crisis is not the first time this tactic is being put to use, but it has become a powerful tool with leverage capabilities. In fact, this tactic was used well before the current COVID-19 epidemic broke out.
Let’s not forget about the hysteria surrounding the explosive-laden balloons and kites that have been landing in the Gaza envelope area, mostly in dry fields that quickly spark fires. Of course, these incidents led to great fear, distress and a certain amount of panic among Israelis living in southern Israel.
It’s the job of the government and its leadership to calm the people, to reduce the threatening feeling to real proportions, and to convince residents that burning kites and balloons are not an existential threat to the state, nor even really to the lives of those who live nearby. No one has died from a balloon attack, and I doubt anyone has been injured from one either. From the intensity of the proclamations, however, and the warnings we’ve heard in the media, it’s not surprising if you didn’t know this.
Nothing here has been left to chance. The policy of intimidation is a powerful tool that is being used by the government. And a pretty effective one, too, it turns out. It helps to evoke a sense of urgency and solidarity, and mainly reinforces many people’s desire to support the current leadership, instead of taking the risk to find a new leader who is perhaps less well-known, with less experience and who is less effective, even though the current leadership has already proven its inefficiency and failures.
It turns out that this feeling of urgency is a very effective tool for promoting political platforms that in a normal atmosphere would never have been accepted.
My intention here is not to criticize Benny Gantz and Gabi Ashkenazi for their actions, which in my opinion were a tragic mistake. First of all, since I know them, I am sure that they acted in good faith (albeit weak faith). I have no doubt that they reached the conclusion that they were acting in the public’s best interest, and not just to settle petty political accounts. This erroneous decision indicates a lack of resilience and determination, which are expected from those who want to lead the nation.
What allowed them to carry out this awkward move was the atmosphere of artificial panic that the prime minister created as a way for them to justify their decision, primarily in their own eyes, as well as in the eyes of some Israelis who have been living under siege-like conditions for a few weeks already.
So where will all this lead us? My feeling is that the story has not yet reached its apex. A government has not yet been formed, the agreements have not been signed, and the ministerial posts have not yet been distributed. Lastly, COVID-19 has not yet turned into an uncontrollable health disaster.
Bibi must leave, and Gantz and Ashkenazi must return to their party. The masses of the House of Israel who are strong and healthy, and full of energy and goodwill, must be allowed to return to work.
The author was the 12th Prime Minister of Israel.
Translated by Hannah Hochner.