If Bennett Really Thinks COVID Vaccines Are Urgent, This Is What He Should Do

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Prime Minister Naftali Bennett.
Prime Minister Naftali Bennett.Credit: Emil Salman
Yair Assulin
Yair Assulin

If Prime Minister Naftali Bennett genuinely believed it was urgent to vaccinate everyone, if he truly thought this was his main goal right now, objective at this juncture, he should have issued a statement as soon as the plea bargain signed with Arye Dery was reported. He should have said that in his eyes – as a public figure, as this ship’s purported pilot – such a deal, without a finding of moral turpitude for someone who has been convicted repeatedly, was unthinkable. It’s a matter of trust.

By the same token, if it were genuinely important to Bennett that everyone be vaccinated, he would have done everything to keep his government from bypassing the civil service appointments committee and proper procedure, appointing Amir Peretz to chair Israel Aerospace Industries in a shady political deal. Or come out against the schemes with the army, or with the kibbutzim (a very partial list).

I sounded the alarm here a few weeks ago, noting that the only thing this government had when it was formed – a little trust, a little hope for change – was being eroded almost daily. If the prime minister genuinely felt that full vaccination was critical, not just as a political pose but as a matter of life or death, if he really felt the sword on the neck, he should have convened – weeks ago, but it’s not too late – an open news conference on Zoom, inviting every Israeli to voice their concerns about the vaccine, allowing every shred of doubt to come to the surface, and then providing answers (if there are any).

A child receives the COVID vaccine in a school in northern Israel, this month.Credit: Moti Milrod

He could have brought Health Ministry officials and sat there himself, without tricks and manipulation, simply to answer questions as they arose. And there are questions. More than a few. Even in people who have vaccinated themselves and their children. Automatically designating anyone who asks questions, trying to understand, an “anti-vaxxer,” is one of the biggest and most destructive manipulations in contending with the pandemic. It has long been clear to anyone with eyes in their head that no vaccine will truly “solve” the coronavirus. If vaccines are so critical, one could devote half a day to such a news conference instead of again threatening, babbling and throwing more money at vacuous information campaigns. Anyone who thinks this is a naive idea does not understand the times we’re living in.

In the same vein, if the prime minister deemed it urgent to promote vaccination, he should have come out to the people demonstrating outside his home last week and, within the bounds of his security protocols, sat down and talked to them, trying to understand what they were saying. He should definitely have retroactively condemned the police violence against the protesters. Yes, despite what he surely hears from his media consultants and despite his apparently anachronistic image of politics and its direct interface with the public.

Because if it was really important for the prime minister, or for the entire government, they would understand that the issue of vaccination, more than any other issue, is an issue of trust. They would work hard to establish such trust, fighting for it, fostering and protecting it every day. If only they really cared, if it were really urgent and critical in their opinion like they say it is to the cameras, and if it really caused them to lose sleep over it.

This should be stated clearly: The failure of the vaccination campaign is first and foremost a vote of no-confidence in this government and in politics in general. The demonization by “new fascists,” self-proclaimed liberals, of anyone daring to cast doubt won’t help. Anyone who really cares must first understand this loss of trust.

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