Opinion | Israeli Politicians, Don’t Blame Us for the Lockdown. Ask for Forgiveness

Stav Shaffir
Stav Shaffir
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Police officers at a coronavirus lockdown checkpoint in Jerusalem on September 23, 2020.
Police officers at a coronavirus lockdown checkpoint in Jerusalem on September 23, 2020.Credit: Ohad Zwigenberg
Stav Shaffir
Stav Shaffir

These are the days of Selichot prayers between Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur, and we are in lockdown. Instead of counting migrating birds, let’s count the politicians who are blaming us for our situation.

The first, the health minister, tells us that because we aren’t obeying the rules, the incidence of infection is rising. The second, , calls us “disease spreaders.” The third, the deputy health minister, blames preschool children. “We had a plan, but the kids didn’t abide by the capsule plan.” Bad children!

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We will hear expressions of remorse from those responsible for the failure only in our dreams. There will be no apologies from this government, which was busy with petty politics instead of showing concern for its citizens by drawing up a strategy to fight the virus and ready the health system. It was easier to let us drown in bureaucracy so we’d have a hard time getting compensation; it’s easier to incite and rip us apart from within.

Reality was not as the regime alleges. There were streets that were totally empty during Rosh Hashanah. The people – who didn’t know all the rules, because even the MKs who voted for them didn’t understand them – took care of themselves. The ones who violated quarantine , as it happens. The public complains but obeys, juggling their finances and rearranging family life, and continues to pay taxes even though they know they won’t get assistance.

The obedient citizen will soon learn that the government has chosen rather strange priorities for distributing the emergency funds. Instead of designating them to deal with the crisis, the Knesset Finance Committee will allocate hundreds of millions of shekels for political deals.

Some 114 million shekels ($33 million) will go to centers for intensifying Jewish education, a code name for right-wing organizations that promote a specific type of Judaism – one that supports the government. Around 296 million shekels will be allocated to Torah institutions; 57 million will be for religious services (including “family purity,” “connections with ” and “memorializing rabbis”). Some 20 million will go to settlements for unclear purposes (not including security outlays). Another 41 million will be given to ; we’ve already revealed how most of its budgets go the settlements instead of to outlying areas of Israel proper.

The government could have used this money to increase hospital staffing; to give every pupil internet access and prevent at-risk students from dropping out; to recruit caregivers for elderly people who have been isolated for months; to help the self-employed by investing in technology that would rescue them from the bureaucracy that makes it difficult for them to get grants. And I haven’t even mentioned parents, who are meant to miraculously continue working while their children are at home.

Instead, the government continues – with shameless crudeness – to cut political deals while blaming the public. And it works. See how many arguments there were over the holiday about the Balfour Street demonstrators. The media is mostly enlisted in promoting the agenda that Prime Minister dictates. And the populace, despite all the complaints, is trying very hard. I saw almost no one at without a mask, and parents are twisting themselves into pretzels to survive when the education system is shut.

The people have a responsibility, and most of them are fulfilling it. But without a functioning government that puts the good of its citizens first, one cannot battle a worldwide pandemic. The individual citizen cannot approve the budgets needed for hospitals. Even if he donated the grant that he received – and this, too, is an example of the responsibility assumed by concerned citizens, and illustrates the wanton behavior of their government – he cannot help by himself the million people suffering during the crisis. When the government fails in its mission, it would behoove it not to lash out with accusations against its citizens. It would be better if it would simply ask forgiveness.

Stav Shaffir served in the Knesset from 2013 to March 2020.