I didn’t watch “Game of Thrones.” I tried. At a certain point, after enough murder and treachery, I stopped caring. Israeli politics has the same effect. After enough treachery and lies, indifference is tempting. Who cares which cabinet positions Benny Gantz, Amir Peretz and Itzik Shmuli will have in the government they promised to fight before selling out their voters. People don’t know what the day will bring, but in a parallel universe Israeli politics carries on. Just one question continues to nag: Why does Yaakov Litzman insist on remaining health minister?
The job doesn’t really interest him. I demanded that he explain his decision not to investigate Laniado Hospital in Netanya, despite testimony of criminal offenses by the medical center – it required women to obtain a rabbi’s approval for abortion or voluntary surgical sterilization. Not only did Litzman refuse to investigate, but he approved a generous aid package for the hospital and prevented the relevant Knesset committee from debating it.
That’s how he does everything. At a media briefing, he referred to “this mysterious flu” and also demanded, according to reporter Ketty Dor of the Kan public broadcaster, that burial in Israel be permitted for Jews who died of COVID-19 abroad. He threatened to resign over railway infrastructure work on Shabbat, but not over inadequate funding for the health care system, for which he is responsible. So why doesn’t he just take over the Wildflower Protection Ministry and let us have a full-time health minister?
To put it another way, why did it take so long for the Haredi community to understand the seriousness of the coronavirus danger? “We’re assuming that we’re about a week and a half behind everyone else,” a Bnei Brak official told Haaretz. That’s an optimistic estimate.
The number of confirmed cases in the predominantly ultra-Orthodox Tel Aviv suburb rose eightfold in just three days. In Betar Ilit, a Haredi settlement in the West Bank, the number of cases jumped from two to 44. Officials in Haredi towns have spoken about a lack of communication with the Health Ministry and a community whose news comes from rumors and unofficial conversations.
President Reuven Rivlin famously said in a 2015 speech that Israel has four tribes that must learn to live together. The true number is higher, but the argument holds. Unlike Arabs, Bedouin, asylum seekers and Palestinian residents of East Jerusalem, the Haredim have representatives in the government.
These cabinet ministers should have conveyed to them the gravity of the situation. That is the minimum that could be expected. It didn’t happen. Many politicians have sold out their voters lately, but none of them put them in harm’s way as Litzman did to his. He insisted on exceptions from the lockdown for Haredim, as if he were handing out candy and not invitations to a funeral.
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The coronavirus is exposing an ancient leftist truth: We’re all in the same boat. Before the pandemic hit, it was possible to ignore this, to tell ourselves that an asylum seeker’s poverty is his problem. The virus did in this lie. There is no such thing as “it’s their problem” now. The virus doesn’t recognize the false borders we have erected. There is a limited number of hospitals, a limited number of tests and a limited number of ventilators. An outbreak in Bnei Brak is the same as an outbreak in Tel Aviv. Litzman did not just betray his own voters. He betrayed all Israelis.
I don’t know why Litzman wants the Health Ministry. Maybe there’s another pedophile he’s determined to rescue. Maybe he hopes to close down an entire hospital ward again for the sake of his rebbe. But he is there because politicians, on the right and on the left, preferred to make a deal with him. Patients have been paying the price for these politicians’ silence for years. We lied to ourselves that it’s their problem. We love this lie. It’s time to let this lie go. It’s time to let Litzman go too.