Israel’s leadership crisis is causing us to lose the war against COVID-19

While some world leaders have realized the importance of setting a personal example, others appear to have abandoned this principle.

Youths, some wearing masks properly and some not, walk on a Jerusalem sidewalk, October 2020 (photo credit: MARC ISRAEL SELLEM/THE JERUSALEM POST)
Youths, some wearing masks properly and some not, walk on a Jerusalem sidewalk, October 2020
(photo credit: MARC ISRAEL SELLEM/THE JERUSALEM POST)
‘A king does not dine while his men go hungry, nor sleep when they stand at watch upon the wall. A king earns his men’s love by the sweat of his own back and the pains he endures for their sake. That which comprises the harshest burden, a king lifts first and sets down last. A king does not require service of those he leads but provides it to them” (Steven Pressfield, Gates of Fire: the Battle of Thermopylae).
The first thing they teach in the IDF Officers School is that setting a personal example is the most important principle in leadership. Indeed, in the IDF, officers command their forces from the front. When they fail in doing so, they are disgraced and relieved of their command. This is exemplified in the fact that the percentage of IDF officers killed in line of duty has been disproportionate to their numerical representation in the military at large.
While Israeli politicians often reference their military service as a credential, it seems that many of them have forgotten the most important quality of true leadership: to inspire people through diligent commitment to the mission while demonstrating its importance through personal example.
Over the past year, the novel coronavirus, commonly known as COVID-19, has reached nearly all corners of the globe, claiming the lives of over one million people globally. Leaders worldwide have been struggling to provide their nations with the necessary guidance, relief and protective measures. Delay in releasing coherent instructions, lack of effective epidemiological investigation mechanisms and overwhelmed hospital systems have become a reality even in countries that are considered highly developed. Subsequently, the public was called to wear masks, practice social distancing and adhere to quarantine restrictions and periodic lockdowns.
In the face of this global threat, now more than ever, people are looking up to their leaders, expecting them to carry their share of the burden and act as an orienting instrument – what in biblical parlance would be called a “pillar of cloud” – after which they could follow to reach a collective destination.
While some world leaders have realized the importance of setting a personal example, others appear to have abandoned this principle. In New Zealand, former health minister David Clark handed in his resignation after he was publicly disgraced for defying the country’s lockdown. In Britain, government adviser on the coronavirus Neil Ferguson also resigned under similar circumstances. Israeli politicians, so it seems, follow a different moral compass.
Last April, Yisrael Beytenu chairman MK Avigdor Liberman violated a general lockdown by hosting his son and daughter-in-law for the traditional Passover Seder. Last month, United Torah Judaism MK Yisrael Eichler participated in a massive ultra-Orthodox wedding, in clear violation of the country’s rules for social distancing and gathering. Both joined the fast-growing list of Israeli politicians who violated the Health Ministry’s instructions, while holding no accountability for their actions. In fact, even Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu refrained from dismissing his new media consultant, Topaz Luk, after the latter was caught violating quarantine.
In an attempt to change the narrative and create a “rally ‘round the flag” effect, Prime Minister Netanyahu spoke the language of national security, referring to COVID-19 as the unseen enemy, and to the coronavirus affair as a war. Indeed, rather than admitting their wrongdoing and taking responsibility for their mistakes, our leaders have decided to embrace the infamous advice of Benjamin Disraeli, Britain’s first and only Jewish prime minister: “Never complain, never explain, never apologize.”
But alas, this approach has been to no avail. Cases continue to rise at unprecedented rates as Israel sets new daily highs with a record of more than 8,000 positive tests results in a single day.
Only by setting an example, can our leaders restore the public’s trust in them. As long as elected officials keep behaving as if they are elevated from the general public, and as long as our leaders continue to hold themselves to a lower standard than they hold us, they should expect little to no cooperation from the general public. In such a chaotic state of affairs, their policy of nonsensical lockdowns followed by unprecedented damage to the economy will continue to be their only answer, causing us, one way or another, to lose the war against the COVID-19.
Maj. (res.) Avi Jager served as a team commander and deputy company commander in the IDF Special Forces. He is currently completing his PhD at the War Studies Department of King’s College London while serving as a junior visiting researcher at the International Institute for Counter-Terrorism.