Netanyahu's showmanship made COVID-19 vaccine arrival about him - opinion

With the vaccine’s arrival, one would think it was Bibi himself who had created it

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu welcomed the arrival of the first batch of Pfizer coronavirus vaccines in Israel  (photo credit: MARC ISRAEL SELLEM)
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu welcomed the arrival of the first batch of Pfizer coronavirus vaccines in Israel
(photo credit: MARC ISRAEL SELLEM)
As someone who can’t sing, I’m full of admiration for Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and his video duet of the classic Arik Einstein song “Yesh Bi Ahava” with Eden Ben Zaken. The man can certainly hold a tune, and while his movements in time to the music may be stiff, again – I’m in no position to criticize given my total lack of rhythm on the dance floor.
So, well done Bibi for this performance in aid of encouraging young people to reach out to their elderly relatives and neighbors to combat loneliness among Israel’s senior citizens.
Less well done though is the prime minister’s performance in terms of actually helping the elderly. According to the latest National Insurance Institute report, poverty among the country’s elderly population went from 17.2% in 2017 to 18.8% in 2018, an increase of more than 9%, due to NII stipends lagging far behind an increase in quality of life for the general population.
Moreover, according to a 2020 report by the Adva Center, 44.7% of households headed by persons aged 67 and over in Israel have no private pension income to supplement these meager NII payments. With no state budget in place because of the prime minister’s shameless pursuit of his own narrow political interest of scuttling his rotation agreement with Alternate Prime Minister Benny Gantz, there is no prospect of increasing the state safety net to improve life for this more vulnerable sector of Israel’s population.
Which prompted Yisrael Beytenu head Avigdor Liberman to caustically comment that the prime minister was, in effect, raising money for an organization contending with “a problem his policy has created.”
But you have to admire Netanyahu’s showmanship and ability to brazen out his failings.
In another classic example of this prime ministerial chutzpah, Netanyahu last week went to Ben-Gurion Airport to personally welcome the arrival of the first plane delivering Pfizer’s coronavirus vaccines to Israel. In the past, prime ministers would only neglect their busy work schedules to welcome highly important guests to the country or released hostages like Gilad Schalit, occasions where human contact really counts for something.
Despite Netanyahu’s ridiculous claims that leaders from all across the globe have been calling him to discover the secret of Israel’s successful battle against COVID-19, we all know that the government’s handling of the crisis has been woeful. Instead of deliberate decisions, clearly communicated and efficiently executed, this government has presided over a shambles, with a third wave of mass infections about to hit the country.
And yet, rather than concentrate on fighting this next COVID escalation and correcting the past mistakes of his government’s mishandling of the crisis, the prime minister chose to take a time out so he could be filmed against a backdrop of a DHL plane from which the first pallets of the vaccine were being unloaded.
While the delivery company DHL will no doubt be grateful for the free publicity, what possible benefit to the country was generated by Netanyahu going in person to the airport to welcome the arrival of inanimate objects? The answer, of course, lies not in any benefit to the country, but rather the benefit Netanyahu personally expects from this image of him surrounded by crates of vaccine.
Should an election be called for March, the centerpiece of Netanyahu’s election campaign will center on this photo-op and the fact that he made eight phone calls to Pfizer chairman and CEO Albert Bourla to ensure the vaccine’s arrival in Israel.
Obviously, the vaccine’s arrival is incredibly welcome and the prime minister is right to set an example by saying he intends to be vaccinated first, but basic competence in ordering supplies should not be allowed to cover up for this government’s failures to date in coping with the pandemic. With all the staged fanfare surrounding its arrival, one would think it was Netanyahu himself who had created the vaccine.
It is this cynical exploitation of national developments that led former Likud minister Gideon Sa’ar to declare he would run against Netanyahu the next time the country goes to the polls. In his speech announcing the move, Sa’ar stressed that the Likud has changed and has become a tool serving the prime minister’s personal interests, including his criminal trial.
And then, showing he is a man of integrity – unlike his new allies, the political renegades Derech Eretz MKs Yoaz Hendel and Zvi Hauser who have hopped from party to party in their short and unimpressive political careers – Sa’ar immediately resigned his Knesset seat on the basis that it belonged to the Likud.
This sense of proprietary is something that has been sadly lacking in Israeli politics for some time and is something, even for somebody as tone deaf as myself and as politically opposed to Sa’ar as possible, to sing about.
The writer is a former editor in chief of The Jerusalem Post.