Israel must lead with courage during the coronavirus crisis – opinion

The recommendations of medical professionals are brushed aside in favor of political considerations, and large sectors of the population have no faith in the government.

PRIME MINISTER Benjamin Netanyahu speaks at his office in Jerusalem on September 13. (photo credit: YOAV DUDKEVITCH/REUTERS)
PRIME MINISTER Benjamin Netanyahu speaks at his office in Jerusalem on September 13.
(photo credit: YOAV DUDKEVITCH/REUTERS)
Leaders are tested in times of crisis. When things are running smoothly, they don’t really have to prove themselves. Those who function well in emergencies succeed not only in managing the situation, but also in inspiring public trust and unity.
Jacinda Ardern, the prime minister of New Zealand, is an excellent example. Acting effectively and with utter transparency, she has contained the novel coronavirus pandemic in her country without ruining the economy. That’s her job, and that’s why she won reelection by a landslide.
Developed island countries like New Zealand, Taiwan, Japan, Singapore, and South Korea (which is basically an island since its one border with North Korea is closed), have been much more successful in the war on COVID-19 than we have. Unlike Europe, Israel doesn’t have open borders with its neighbors, making it virtually an island as well.
So why is the fatality rate fifty times higher here than it is in New Zealand, almost nine hundred times higher than in Taiwan, twenty times higher than in Japan, fifty times higher than in Singapore, and thirty times higher than in South Korea? Why is our economy on the verge of collapse? Why are nearly one million people jobless and countless businesses going under?
If you look at the morbidity rate, the gaps are even bigger. Our statistics are among the worst in the world. It doesn’t have to be like this.
There are two conditions for winning this war. First, decisions must be made on the basis of objective scientific factors alone. Secondly, there must be public trust in the government. If the public doesn’t believe that it is acting responsibly and in good faith, people will not comply with its directives. Without the trust and cooperation of the citizens, the battle can’t be won.
Neither condition is met here. The recommendations of medical professionals are brushed aside in favor of political considerations, and large sectors of the population have no faith in the government.
Why should they? When not everyone is expected to comply with the same medically-based standard for gatherings in closed or open spaces, our leaders are vulnerable to pressure and extortion. Consequently, they make absurd decisions, and then they impose a lockdown on the whole country because of pressure from a few red zones. Gatherings of up to ten people are permitted, but workplaces with less than ten employees are closed. Supermarkets are open, but hair salons and bookshops are closed. Why? There is no logical reason. And when there’s no logic, people do what they want. When a rabbi defies the government and there are no consequences, when his institutions continue to receive state funding, why should the public have faith in the government?
That’s what happens when the Likud is so weak and the polls are predicting that a marginal party like Yamina could win more than 20 seats in the next elections. Who is number 20 on the Yamina slate? For that matter, who is number 10? A party with nothing to show for itself is eating away at the Likud.
Leadership requires courage. It requires stating boldly, “I’m stalling on the budget for 2021 because I haven’t yet decided if I want to uphold the rotation agreement.” That’s the truth of the matter, and everyone knows it. So why not just come out and say it? It would be a thousand times more honorable than approving a budget for eight days.
Leadership requires conducting a serious discussion with the defense establishment in the accepted and responsible manner, hearing other opinions before making a decision. And then having the guts to stand up and say, “I have decided that peace with the Gulf states is more important than preventing an Arab army from acquiring F-35s.” Why hide it?
Leadership requires self-confidence, doing what needs to be done unflinchingly, without succumbing to pressure or making erratic decisions. It is possible to steer a country through a crisis, no matter how formidable. All it takes is the courage to weigh only objective considerations and the strength not to fold under pressure.
Translated by Sara Kitai, [email protected]