A Good Word for Netanyahu, for a Change

250,000 Israelis already received the first dose of the coronavirus vaccine, and millions more will soon get it. It doesn’t require the usual Israeli arrogance to admit that this is impressive

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An Israeli medical worker receives COVID-19 vaccine at Ichilov hospital in the Israeli coastal city of Tel Aviv, on December 20, 2020.
An Israeli medical worker receives Covid-19 vaccine at Ichilov hospital in the Israeli coastal city of Tel Aviv, on December 20, 2020.Credit: JACK GUEZ / AFP
Gideon Levy
Gideon Levy

There is so much to criticize in Israel, so many bad things to say – and with good reason – especially in the past few years. The Gaza Strip is a cage, the West Bank is a colony, Israel is apartheid. The prime minister is being tried on three separate corruption charges, and the investigative TV program “Uvda” showed the ugliness of the opposite camp as well. Having said all that – and we won’t stop saying it – every once in a while, when the occasion calls for it, when fortune smiles on us, we need to put in a kind word – even for Satan. Even he occasionally does something that’s praiseworthy, and he must be told so.

The coronavirus vaccine campaign that began in Israel last week is one of these moments. It wouldn’t harm us in the slightest to give this operation, and the person who is responsible for it, the recognition they deserve. In other words: Benjamin Netanyahu and the Israeli medical establishment deserve a kind word, and the sky won’t fall as a result. No one will become a Bibi-lover simply for praising a particular act of Netanyahu, and no criticism of Netanyahu would be fair and valid if its source doesn’t have the courage to also commend him when it’s appropriate. Yes, it takes a fair amount of guts for anyone in the anti-Bibi camp to put in a good word – even a half-word – for Netanyahu. That side is no less savage than the “Bibist” side.

We can’t blame Netanyahu for all of Israel’s ills – correctly, most of the time – and then ignore his contribution when something works. Everyone knows the arguments of the naysayers-at-any-cost: The only thing Netanyahu cares about is evading his trial; he doesn’t care about the country, including the vaccines; it’s all PR; the vaccines that Israel bought are much more expensive than the ones the European Union bought; Israel is diluting the vaccines to get six doses out of every five-dose vial; there are lines at the vaccination centers and it’s hard to get an appointment; the third lockdown begins Sunday and it too is absolutely terrible. It’s all Netanyahu’s fault, of course.

On second thought: The pandemic landed in Israel, as on the entire world, without anyone being ready for it. Less than a year later and the end is in sight, in Israel no less than in any other country. The virus has caused enormous loss here, of both life and property, and nevertheless Israel never topped the list of worst-hit countries, not even briefly. The same cannot be said of certain other more advanced states. Many mistakes were made, decisions that were so senseless as to be embarrassing, and sensible decisions that were not enforced – and despite it all, the vaccines are already here, and there is light on the horizon.

Either Netanyahu is to blame for all of the mistakes and thus also deserves a pat on the shoulder for the accomplishments, or he is not responsible for the accomplishments and thus also not to blame for the mistakes. But he can’t be pilloried for everything that went wrong without being praised for the accomplishments, even if many think that they were few.

Meirav Arlosoroff is certainly right when she writes that the primary reason for the success of the vaccination campaign is the excellent infrastructure of the kupot holim, the health maintenance organizations that are the relics of the good old cooperative spirit of the old-time left (TheMarker Hebrew, December 25). But she too noted that Netanyahu played a decisive role in obtaining vaccines, not a trivial matter. It can be said. Fairness requires it, especially in regard to a prime minister who is so reviled and maligned.

Israel paid too much for the vaccines? The roads built for the settlers are much more expensive and superfluous. It’s all to burnish the prime minister’s image? Better that this be done through vaccines. The lines are long? Israelis are world champions when it comes to complaining and being coddled. In the end, a quarter of a million Israelis already received the first dose of the vaccine, and millions more will soon get it. It doesn’t require the usual Israeli arrogance to admit that this is impressive. There is someone behind this. This may be said. This must be said.

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