Bring the COVID Criminal to Justice

Nehemia Shtrasler
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Police stand guard as Israeli anti-government protesters chant slogans outside of the official residence of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, Jan. 13, 2021.
Nehemia Shtrasler

It’s been a while since I’ve gotten such a response. Many people who saw my op-ed piece last week (“Netanyahu, Who’s to blame for Israel’s 4,000 coronavirus dead?”) called me to spill out their guts. They said that it was really about time that someone spoke about the elephant in the room – the 4,000 people dead, which has since risen to over 4,300 – and note who was responsible for them. How much can we continue to prattle about the huge blunders at Ben-Gurion Airport without saying who committed them deliberately?

It’s true that at the beginning of the pandemic Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu correctly saw the need to close the airport to free entry and to put returning Israelis into two-week quarantine. After all, we are a small “isolated island” nation, that could successfully cut the chains of infection and stop the pandemic in its tracks.

Why Bibi won't stand up to ultra-Orthodox COVID scofflaws: LISTEN

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Indeed, there were countries that did exactly that: Taiwan has had a total of seven deaths since the start of the pandemic; Singapore has had 29, Cyprus, 183 and New Zealand, 25. And we have 4,361! Because the airport was never closed. United Torah Judaism’s Yaakov Litzman and Moshe Gafni wanted to allow those with whom they are affiliated to come and enjoy our excellent health services. They also pressed to allow the entry of 12,000 yeshiva students, many from Brooklyn – the global focal point of the pandemic at the time. And Netanyahu agreed.

He put his personal interests ahead of the national interest. What was important to him was not to anger the ultra-Orthodox, so they would continue to support him in any and all circumstances, so that he would continue to be prime minister, so that he could intimidate the police, the prosecution and the courts, so that after the next election he can establish a government with them that will give him full immunity and cancel his trial.

But it is precisely for this crime he should be prosecuted. This is many times more serious than all the indictments against him put together. This is also the reason why more than a million travelers have entered Israel without being prescreened for the coronavirus and without being effectively quarantined, which has caused hundreds of deaths.

Recently Netanyahu allowed those returning from Turkey and Dubai to enter the country freely, thus renewing the wave of infections and deaths. And all this was to provide the masses with “bread and circuses,” so they would reward him in the voting booth. It was just as he had said in May, after the first lockdown, “Go out, drink beer, have a great time.” Then, we went out, and we died. Some 1,100 people died between the end of the first lockdown and the beginning of the second.

This, of course, is not the only act for which he should stand trial. When the infection rate in the Haredi cities started to rise, he refused to deal with them differentially, based on the “traffic light” plan proposed by then-coronavirus czar Prof. Ronni Gamzu. He neither blocked the holding of massive weddings nor increased the fines for them, so as not to anger Gafni and Litzman. He even allowed Talmud Torah schools, yeshivas and ritual baths to open, all for one brutal consideration – to maintain the alliance with the Haredim.

But he wasn’t only eyeing the Haredim. At the start of the pandemic Netanyahu refused to transfer responsibility for cutting the chains of infection to the Home Front Command so as not to provide then-Defense Minister Naftali Bennett with any sort of achievement. This was also a crime that led to deaths. Nor did he crack down on weddings in the Arab community. Arabs also have the right to vote.

None of these were innocent acts, nor were they management failures. These were deliberate acts that cost thousands of lives. And Netanyahu calls this “a great success” even though it’s exactly the opposite. Over 4,300 deaths is a great failure. The current rate of around 40 deaths a day, like an entire bus blowing up in a terror attack, is a Yom-Kippur-War-style catastrophe.

Once, during the first lockdown, Netanyahu boasted that world leaders were calling him for advice. Now they’re calling to ask him how he managed to bring his small isolated country to a state of 4,300 deaths without being brought down himself. Tell us, please, how you’ve managed to fool the Israelis.

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