Israel needs a government, not a circus – analysis

The coronavirus czar appointment process shows what has been known about the government for a ling time – it simply does not function. Nothing about it is working.

NETANYAHU AND Gantz – can they put their animosity aside and serve the public? (photo credit: CORINNA KERN AMIR COHEN REUTERS)
NETANYAHU AND Gantz – can they put their animosity aside and serve the public?
It was almost like election night in 1996. Israel went to sleep thinking that Shimon Peres was the new prime minister, and woke up to Benjamin Netanyahu.
On Wednesday night, the same happened. Israel went to sleep with Prof. Gabi Barbash as the long-awaited coronavirus czar and woke up with news that it would be Prof. Ronni Gamzu.
To the average Israeli, the difference between Barbash and Gamzu is meaningless. Both are former directors-general of the Health Ministry and both were heads of Ichilov Hospital, otherwise known as Sourasky Medical Center, in Tel Aviv. Barbash might be more well-known because of his nightly appearances on Channel 12 News, but Gamzu is no less articulate or capable.
What this appointment process shows though, is what has been known about this government for a long time now – it simply does not function. Nothing about it is working. Nothing.
Just look at what happened with the restaurants over the last week. One day they are open and the next day they are closed. Then they are open half a day and then they are closed for half a day. A similar scenario is playing out in gyms. One week they are closed and the next week they are open. On Thursday afternoon, for example, the Knesset decided gyms will reopen on Sunday.
Don’t count on it though. Knowing this government, by Saturday night they will change the rules once again.
What is going on here? Is this how a government is meant to function?
Any expert, any professional, will tell you that one of the first and most important parts of managing a national crisis is to be clear when disseminating information to the public. Make sure everyone understands what is going on and also serve as a role model – when you ask people to stay home for the Passover Seder, do the same. When you tell people not to meet with their children, don’t meet yours.
Set an example and be clear with what needs to happen. Shouldn’t be that difficult, right?
Unfortunately, from the beginning of this crisis it has been that difficult. Putting aside how when almost all Israelis were alone for the Seder the prime minister and the president hosted their children, the chaotic and constant changing of the rules and regulations has made people crazy, not to mention lose their jobs and businesses.
Imagine you own a restaurant. When you are told you can open, you order supplies – fruit, vegetables, meat and more. The next day you are told you need to close. What happens to what you bought? What happens to your workers? Is this a way a country should be running itself?
By now, it seems that everyone knows the answer – of course not. The question that remains is why doesn’t it change? Why can’t Israel get its act together? Why can’t it figure out – five months into this pandemic – what it needs to do? How did Israel go from being one of the countries known for crushing the virus in their first wave to being ranked as one of the top 10 worst countries in the world? How did Israel become worse – in terms of daily cases per 100,000 people – than places like Brazil?
There are a lot of answers, but the real one starts at the top and at the highest levels of government. The leadership in Israel dropped the ball with this crisis. It has failed to prepare accordingly and to manage this crisis accordingly.
This is the time for leadership. What is so troubling is that this could have been our finest hour, as Winston Churchill famously said. Unfortunately, until now, it has been one of our worst.
Why though? The answer is because of the true plague in Israel – politics. Politics trumps everything, even a health crisis. Just look at the Knesset on Wednesday when Gantz and Netanyahu clashed over a bill to illegalize conversion therapy for the LGBTQ community. While an important issue, is this what they should be fighting about? Shouldn’t they be focused on the raging health crisis right now?
Sadly, the writing for this was on the wall from the beginning. Many Israelis looked at this Gantz-Netanyahu unity government as what was needed to help steer us through this storm. Unfortunately, that was naïve. Gantz and Netanyahu don’t know how to work together. Period.
Everything they try to do together fails. They can barely stand being in the same room with one another. Is this repairable? According to sources close to both of them, probably not.
While the Gantz-Netanyahu relationship is to blame, at the core though is the fact that Israel’s prime minister is on trial for bribery, fraud and breach of trust.
It is time to recognize what should have been clear months ago when the indictment against Netanyahu was submitted to court – a person who is on trial facing severe criminal charges cannot continue running this country. It just doesn’t work.
It doesn’t work because that person’s decisions will always be skewed. Of course, that person will want to do what is right for the country, but always in his or her mind will be a thought of how does this work out politically? How does it impact their trial?
Israel needs leadership with a singular focus, one that is clear, articulate and understands the gravity of this situation. When we look back at history, great moments were made by great leaders who recognized and understood where they were. They knew to put their country first, not themselves.
Unfortunately, Israel cannot do that now. It is time for this to change. We need a government. Not a circus.