Now this is something we hadn’t seen before, not even during the frenzied first wave of the coronavirus: On Thursday, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu convened an “emergency session” of a small ministerial forum that has no authority to issue decrees or impose restrictions.
They met without the education minister to discuss shutting schools and to summarily impose weekend lockdowns – without Attorney General Avichai Mendelblit's approval. (He first heard about it in the media.) All this came just a day after an equally small forum decided to shower Israelis with stimulus checks without bothering to inform the Bank of Israel governor.
As the press dramatically reported that “the ministers decided” on a lockdown and shutting schools, Education Ministry officials were frantically trying to contact the Prime Minister’s Office to find out what the hell was going on. An already weary and frazzled public is being driven mad by the chaos and the way that over and over again, these decrees are dumped on it without time to prepare and without clear information.
Naturally, all these proposals keep flying around the government conference rooms with no serious statistical basis to support them. Are more infections occurring in Israel on weekends? At night? Has it been determined that preschoolers act as virus carriers?
Why does it matter? The important thing is not to actually do the necessary work but just to look like you’re doing something. Which is just what happened over swimming pools and gyms, which the data do not clearly indicate need to be closed. But the prime minister must be seen as doing something, regardless of whether it has any real value.
This has always been Netanyahu’s approach – the fantasy that a single magic pill will instantly cure every ill. The universal handouts are yet another one of his Band-Aid solutions, with no long-term planning attached.
Every time he pulls another one of these tricks out of the air, Netanyahu says he coordinated the move with his coalition partner Benny Gantz ahead of time. And that is inevitably followed by Gantz's Kahol Lavan belatedly announcing that they actually oppose the irresponsible handouts, the weekend lockdown with no warning or – fill in the blank.
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At this stage of our acquaintance with the pandemic, Israel’s decision-making processes should also have been charting positively. Instead, we’re going in the opposite direction. Instead of orderly cabinet meetings where clear data are presented and responsible decisions are made by the whole coalition with transparency and long-term planning, we just have Netanyahu, who decides everything alone under cover of limited forums that have no authority and an alternate prime minister, Gantz, who receives updates by fax.
Many Israelis are familiar from their army service with having to spend the weekend on base as punishment for some infraction, and now, in civilian life, they may be grounded at home. But people are getting fed up with the government indiscriminately bombarding them with hasty, illogical decrees, and the anger is coming to a boil.
A recent Likud list of talking points accused the anti-Netanyahu protesters of being “anarchists.” The message was lifted verbatim from President Donald Trump’s campaign against the Black Lives Matter protesters.
But the Israeli public isn’t stupid. Israelis see where the anarchy is really to be found. The national unity government that was established just to deal with the coronavirus is failing spectacularly and has become a national anarchy government. And no check for a few hundred shekels is going to pacify them and shut them up.