The emergency law that lets the cabinet restrict the public without needing the Knesset’s approval is a symbol of a violent process taking place under the cover of the great coronavirus panic. Its destructive implications go beyond politics and its dangers are even worse than those of the virus itself, whose potential harm to health cannot be denied.
The strangling of the economy that will end in the destruction of the middle class – another sign of an oligarchical, antidemocratic society – is alone an enormous disaster whose significance cannot be overstated.
Even more, under the cover of the coronavirus and with the encouragement of the panic-mongers, Israel’s social and communal fabric is being destroyed. The Shin Bet security service shuts people in their homes without recourse, employees are instructed not to work at the office, gatherings of any kind are forbidden. Entire industries are erased in the blink of an eye, and with them people’s livelihoods and self-respect.
The individual is thus all alone, subject to the whims of the policymakers; at their will they can exterminate you or me like a fly.
For allegedly “justifiable reasons,” above all the great fear of infection, a path is being cleared for a dictatorship or oligarchy in which enormous power is concentrated in the hands of a few. That’s a sick and antidemocratic situation that destroys the hard-won system of checks and balances, part of which is in the hands of the political opposition. After all, the power-hungry are reluctant to cede power or miss an opportunity to grab more of it.
It’s very easy to frighten people, especially where health is concerned. The chairman of the panel advising the National Security Council on the pandemic, Prof. Eli Waxman, said this week that Israel now faces one of the worst crises in its history. And this is the country that lost 1 percent of its Jewish inhabitants in the War of Independence, experienced a polio epidemic that affected the youngest children and suffered a national breakdown after the Yom Kippur War.
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu returned to scare the public, and once again we face a concrete threat of another full lockdown. Even if the purpose of these remarks is to shock Israelis out of their supposed complacency, these comments reflect poor leadership.
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It’s indeed very easy to scare and demoralize people. A thin gray pencil stroke separates justified concern and national psychosis under which society can be shaped like clay. It’s much harder to courageously manage risks out of a realization that the economy, social fabric and mental health are no less important than the coronavirus infection rate.
And it’s much harder to do this out of an understanding that a lockdown is a very limited tool that can achieve very limited goals, and that in a democratic state it can’t be used as a plan to be pulled off the shelf more than once. It’s even more difficult to create policy not based on the unlimited deprivation of liberty and paralyzing orders at a time when people are increasingly locked up by jailers whose salaries, unlike theirs, are guaranteed.