Israeli Leaders, 'Trying to Avoid Lockdown' Isn't Enough

Uzi Baram
Uzi Baram
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Bat Yam mall during the third lockdown
Bat Yam mall during the third lockdownCredit: Hadas Parush
Uzi Baram
Uzi Baram

The new government has a desire to implement changes and reforms. These are lofty aspirations, some of which are feasible, but when the government determines the agenda – not when the agenda is forced on it. A renewal of the COVID-19 pandemic – this time, the delta variant – is forcing the government to be massively preoccupied with the medical issue on a daily basis, exposed to the public eye.

In the previous coronavirus crises we became accustomed to the pompous appearances of former Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. Although he did good work in promoting the vaccines and bringing them to Israel, in hindsight his appearances up until then seem absurd, not to say pathetic. He wanted to glorify his activity by means of hollow mantras such as “I instructed the finance minister,” as though Yisrael Katz were a pawn on a chessboard and Netanyahu both the king and the queen.

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Prime Minister Naftali Bennett is not the leader of a large party. He heads a government that is supported by a narrow coalition. These limitations obligate him to work in cooperation with all the components of the government, and to present responsible and consensual opinions. As opposed to Netanyahu’s approach of “l’état c’est moi,” the new government must adhere to harmony, mutual respect and joint and sustainable decision-making by all of its components.

It must internalize that in spite of the sigh of relief that followed the end of Netanyahu’s rule, major public, economic and social mistakes will cost it dearly. Yes, it’s nice and refreshing to see that the new government knows how to win by a single vote in parliamentary confrontations, and how to force the opposition to suffer repeated failures; and it’s also wonderful that there’s a public consensus that the government really is trying to act for the benefit of the citizens.

Prime Minister Bennett isn’t working for the purpose of daily self-aggrandizement, Finance Minister Avigdor Lieberman is not serving as a clandestine enemy of the prime minister, he is trying to work in harmony with him, and Mossi Raz of Meretz explains the achievements of the government in Hebrew and Arabic and is thereby promoting a pleasant atmosphere.

Israelis playing tennis in teh street during the first lockdownCredit: Oded Balilty / AP

But the talk of an approaching lockdown is likely to be a big mistake. In fact, the government must already make it clear that there will be no lockdown – not on the Jewish holidays in September, not at all. “Trying to avoid a lockdown” is not enough, nor is there any point in addressing the conscience of many citizens and saying that if they don’t get vaccinated they will be the cause of the worst thing possible – the lockdown.

The lockdown is an invention of human beings. It is not a divine decree. Enforcing the obligation to wear masks in closed spaces and in large groups and expanding the vaccination campaign are the only steps that the new government should adopt.

A lockdown would bring public depression back to the streets, the gloomy atmosphere, the feeling that once again life has come to a halt. A lockdown would restore the culture of furlough to our lives, it would cause further terrible damage to the economy and have a strong negative effect on the social fabric of the country.

Hand sanitiser and a mask are seen on a pupil's desk Credit: Jack Guez / AFP

And it’s not only a matter of damage, it’s also a matter of effectiveness. I am permitting myself to assume that the public, at this point, will no longer abide by the restrictions of the lockdown. And yes, I assume that the problem of enforcement will come up again, this time to an even greater extent. People will simply refuse to stay home.

The lockdown is an example of a path that we should not take. All those involved – the prime minister and the health care, education and economic systems – must work together in order to prevent it.

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