Israelis Learn a Lesson in Lawbreaking

A photo of Dr. Zvi Bar'el.
Zvi Bar'el
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Many Israelis have decided to blatantly break the lockdown rules. Tel Aviv's Levinsky market is bustling amid the lockdown, December 28, 2020.
Many Israelis have decided to blatantly break the lockdown rules. Tel Aviv's Levinsky market is bustling amid the lockdown, December 28, 2020. Credit: Hadas Prosh
A photo of Dr. Zvi Bar'el.
Zvi Bar'el

Israelis have become criminals. The questions that anyone who leaves his house asks himself are how to circumvent the lockdown restrictions, where he can go on Shabbat without encountering the police, what stories he’ll tell the police officer if he is stopped and questioned. The especially careful even study the regulations thoroughly for the sole purpose of finding cracks through which they can squeeze to reach forbidden places.

Anyone driving down urban streets will see that stores selling the most essential items – including picture frames, cosmetics, tools, candy and housewares – are all open and offering their wares. Children of every age are attending school, preschool or ultra-Orthodox Talmud Torah schools. Parents are dropping them off at school every morning and picking them up in the afternoon. And anyone who has a pair of sneakers at home has become a solitary athlete.

In short, the sea is the same sea, filled to overflowing, and everything is working normally − for everyone that is except the malls and owners of small businesses.

The cabinet’s regulations these days are similar to the real estate laws, which nobody, aside from the experts, understands or can even read, much less obey. On Monday, Education Minister Yoav Gallant tried to explain why schools had to be open. He presented data and percentages, breakdowns and experiments, until you needed a course in quantum physics to follow his probability calculations.

But mayors and school principals, who are neither experts in the theory of statistics nor afraid of looking ignorant, understood one thing – which rules the public could tolerate and which it couldn’t.

And thus, the rule of law has been privatized. Each mayor has become a legislator, and enforcement depends on geography.

If you’re a teacher in Tel Aviv, you’ll probably be vaccinated soon if you haven’t been vaccinated already. If you live in the ultra-Orthodox settlement of Elad, obviously your schools will be open. The law depends on political considerations rather than medical ones, and the public filters it to find what suits it at any given moment.

The result is that Israeli society has made lawbreaking a way of life rather than just a means of economic or social survival. In the absence of any evidence of the regulations’ efficacy, and given the selective enforcement, breaking the law has become not only a way of expressing distrust, anger and frustration. Now, it’s also the last remaining refuge of individual freedom for citizens whose government is utterly disconnected from them, floating like a lost spaceship in some galaxy far, far away.

The lawbreakers come from every party and every segment of society. They include intellectuals and tradesmen, Mizrahim and Ashkenazim, Arabs, ultra-Orthodox and secular Jews. Coronavirus crime unites most of the public, to the point that if this bloc formed a party, it would likely win by a landslide. The irony is that of these millions of criminals, many voted in the past and plan to vote again for the man who caused them to break the law.

The start of the vaccination campaign, of which Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is so proud, can’t negate the damage he has caused Israeli society by turning his personal crimes into a model for emulation – a stellar example of how a leader’s crimes legitimize criminality among the entire public. If the public initially suspected that Netanyahu’s decisions stemmed from fear of his trial, it has now become indifferent to the laws raining down on it and is taking the law into its own hands.

This is the natural, necessary evolution of criminality. At first, only minorities like the ultra-Orthodox and the settlers received exemptions from the law. But in time, their successes, their political capital and the money they accumulated gave them the status of policy setters, and therefore the power to impose their will and their mistakes on the entire public., and being exempted has become the culture. Anyone who isn’t an “exception” is a sucker, and a sucker can’t be an Israeli.

But hey, the person responsible for this destruction is also the savior who brought us the vaccines; doesn’t he deserve credit for it? Another term of office? Another turn at ruling over us? Admittedly, he’s a criminal (prima facie, of course) – but so are we.

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