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Coronavirus Shows Netanyahu Is a Good Crisis Manager but a Very Dangerous Leader

In a criminal exploitation of the historic coronavirus crisis, Netanyahu and his party prevented parliamentary proceedings in an effort to neutralize Gantz's majority

Ravit Hecht
Ravit Hecht
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Benjamin Netanyahu explains why he should remain prime minister after the right wing won a majority of 'Jewish votes' in the election, Jerusalem, March 4, 2020.
Benjamin Netanyahu explains why he should remain prime minister after the right wing won a majority of 'Jewish votes' in the election, Jerusalem, March 4, 2020. Credit: Emil Salman

These are difficult times, infused with fear, and the most justified: The fear for life itself.

Yesterday an acquaintance from France, a sworn leftist who could never be suspected of being a Netanyahu fan in any way, sent a message to all his contacts in Israel. He had watched the prime minister’s address, he wrote, and couldn’t understand why Netanyahu hasn’t imposed a total closure on Israel. He’s taking a dangerous risk, he said.

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That’s right, a firebrand liberal humanist, whom I had met in Israel at a Jewish-Palestinian memorial service, supports one of the most serious restrictions a country can impose on its citizens. His son is a physician in a French hospital, he said, and what he’s seeing there is too much to bear. Don’t leave your house and don’t meet with anyone, he begged.

Benjamin Netanyahu did not instigate the coronavirus. It is an authentic global disaster and the scope of the damage it will cause cannot be predicted. Netanyahu, who is nervous by nature, in fact did recognize that this was a serious event, and the preliminary steps taken by Israel, like making everyone who had returned from abroad go into quarantine, is likely to reduce the ultimate damage it will cause.

PM Netanyahu (L) and Health Minister Yaacov Litzman at a press conference on the spread of the coronavirus, March 4, 2020.Credit: Emil Salman

Despite the justified concern these days that Israel could turn into a dictatorship, the ones setting the coronavirus policies are Health Ministry officials, to whom Netanyahu has given significant authority. This includes the very controversial monitoring of cell phone locations and the Health Ministry’s issuing of closure orders Tuesday afternoon, an attempt to shock the public and cause people to stay home of their own accord before the government orders an official lockdown.

The Health Ministry nerds have discovered their power. It’s effective not only because the public is scared, but because they have Netanyahu’s full backing. As a result, this isn’t dictatorship but the rule of bureaucrats, which the right usually loves to whine about. Given what is happening around the world and the level of the political echelon in Israel – we’re probably better off.

But despite everything, what Israel needs right now is a unity government for a limited time that will get the country through this crisis, whose members will work together to deliver the optimum solutions for Israelis in this scary time. We already have one big problem; we don’t have to add all kinds of difficulties and inhibitions brought on by a parliament that is elected and dissolves regularly, and an endless transition government.

But what happened Wednesday in the Knesset is a new chapter in the history of political ugliness, an aggressive, frightening occurrence in a democratic country. Likud, steered by Netanyahu, prevented the establishment of a Knesset Arrangements Committee in an effort to neutralize the majority that the left-wing bloc would have on it, and as a result paralyzed the Israeli legislature.

This is a shameful, criminal exploitation of a historic crisis, and a serious undermining of democracy. The legislature, at any hour and in any situation, must be at the ready to oversee the executive branch’s work. The man now adding a civic crisis to the public health crisis is Netanyahu himself. Netanyahu is determined to obstruct all those who, in the name of sanity and the good of the public, are seeking the only solution that is logical and doable – a unity government.

People quarantined with Corona virus line up to vote at a specially made tent in Haifa, Israel, March 2, 2020.Credit: Mahmoud Illean,AP

Given the total lack of confidence between the two large parties, however, Kahol Lavan at this point seems to have only one choice: Benny Gantz must push MKs Zvi Hauser and Yoaz Hendel to the wall and make them decide once and for all which, in their view, is worse: Cooperating with the Arab MKs or letting Netanyahu destroy Israel’s democracy.

A government that relies on the Joint List, if it emerges, will suffer from delegitimization from a large part of the nation. That can’t be denied or taken lightly. But Netanyahu insists on proving that you can’t cooperate with him. He is just too dangerous.