To overcome the coronavirus crisis, Israel needs new leadership

It's not just the virus that's a threat: Israeli society is starting to fracture under the strain.

Israelis protest against Israeli prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu at Habima Square in Tel Aviv on October 03, 2020. (photo credit: MIRIAM ALSTER/FLASH90)
Israelis protest against Israeli prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu at Habima Square in Tel Aviv on October 03, 2020.
(photo credit: MIRIAM ALSTER/FLASH90)
It is time to rethink the way we’re trying to fight the coronavirus.
When the pandemic started in March, the establishment thought our main focus should be on health. Doctors spoke daily about the need to social distance, and it was a common belief that if we just shut down the country for a while, the virus would go away.
But soon after, businesses started to collapse like dominoes, and people started to tie the virus to the economic blow the country was now suffering. By late June, protesters took to the streets and demanded that the government find solutions for those who had lost their income, and for some, their life projects, due to the restrictions.
Since then, the discourse has focused only on the balance between the two: tightening restrictions and its economic impact vs easing restrictions and opening the economy.
But most people – including our leaders – have forgotten about another element that is just as important as our health and economy – the fabric of our society.
The most fundamental pillar for the restrictions to work is compliance, but this requires social consideration.
Unfortunately, not only do our leaders not promote that consideration, they foster the exact opposite, nurturing hate between the different sectors.
A perfect example has been the tug-of-war between demonstrations and prayers, with Likud members repeating the fake argument that the two are the same, despite no evidence of infections at protests and tons of evidence of infections at synagogues.
Their main argument is: “If they can [protest], why can’t we [pray]?” This idea led to the catastrophe we see today in ultra-Orthodox neighborhoods, where thousands have attended holiday tisch celebrations, funerals and other daily gatherings.
It also led to violence against anti-government protesters, who were labeled by some of the coalition members as the people to blame for the virus’s spread. Over the weekend, there was a spike in violence, which included a car-ramming attack in Tel Aviv and a woman was punched in the face.
These days, it seems, society is fractured and divided more than ever. There is no trust, and different groups in society are looking to blame the other. No one takes responsibility; no one respects the other.
This division is bred at the top. Already in August, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said the protesters are “spreading diseases,” and that the demonstrations are “coronavirus incubators.” He also claimed that there are no records of the disease in these protests because the people who attend them leave their phones at home, a claim that has consistently been proven false.
And this is the bigger problem.
The prime minister’s mind is focused only on one thing: his trial. And these days, he is focused on silencing the tens of thousands of people who are exercising their freedom of speech to protest against him, even if the price is losing the battle against COVID-19.
Last Thursday, a Knesset committee debated a suggestion by MK Ayelet Shaked that would allow opening small businesses during the lockdown. When the committee’s legal advisers made it clear that to do so would also permit protests, the coalition shot down the initiative.
 On Friday, Blue and White’s Asaf Zamir – who sat in the cabinet’s most sensitive meetings and witnessed the decision-making process – resigned from his post as tourism minister. “The coronavirus crisis is at best a secondary priority for the prime minister,” Zamir wrote in his resignation letter. “The personal and legal considerations are what interests Netanyahu, and this has been clear by every step he has taken.”
This is a byproduct of the way our leaders behave, and the example they set for the country. The most recent case was Likud Minister Gila Gamliel, who not only spent Yom Kippur with her family away from home, but allegedly deceived the Health Ministry about where she had contracted the virus.
But what can we expect from the pawns when the king sets the tone? The prime minister created a situation in which no criticism is valid, and if you do criticize him – for his management of the crisis or his alleged corruption – you are immediately declared a traitor to the state.
So how can we repair our fractured society, and win the battle, when our leadership is so broken?