Something bad has happened to Benjamin Netanyahu. Once, he loved the economy with all his heart and soul. Today, he has turned it into an abused concubine. He has attacked it in a brutal pincer movement and is strangling it to death.
On one hand, he announced the closure of wedding halls, restrictions on restaurants, reductions in the number of bus passengers and the liquidation of the culture and leisure industries.
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On the other, he is giving the public tens of billions of shekels that he doesn’t have, with no accounting, no budget and no clue where the money will come from or how the vast deficit he has created will be covered.
This pincer movement has sent the economy decades back in time, to the great crisis of 1984. Back then, we suffered from an enormous deficit, huge debts, terrible unemployment, lowered credit ratings and the loss of all our dollar reserves, down to the very last dollar.
Nor is the problem just that certain industries have been shut down. An economy is built on expectations. Yet instead of sending a message of hope, Netanyahu is sending a message of disaster, panic and death. That’s his cowardly, pessimistic nature.
Thus if there are still any buyers left who want to buy something, Netanyahu is sending them back to their bunkers. He is thereby systematically destroying what little economic activity still remains.
“Mr. Economy” has cynically pushed a million people into poverty and deprivation, and has sent the economy into recession, huge deficits and a dangerous debt level. He has done so in a stunning display of arrogance and mismanagement.
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He appears on television as an actor, someone who “demands,” “orders” and “instructs” in an authoritative baritone voice. But in practice, he never checks whether these orders are implemented. Then he blames the bureaucrats, or alternate Prime Minister Benny Gantz, and soon Finance Minister Yisrael Katz as well. He should never have shut the economy down for a second time. There are better ways to deal with the coronavirus, without committing economic suicide.
Many countries worldwide are doing exactly that. They’re allowing the economy to operate while also fighting the virus. Ronni Gamzu, the director of Ichilov Hospital, said it well: “You have to dance with the coronavirus.”
Netanyahu is to blame for the second wave of the virus. He could have wiped out the disease in late May, when the number of patients dropped steeply. But he refused to accept the Mossad’s plan for breaking the chain of infection.
Consequently, nobody checked who patients were meeting with and whom they had infected. Thus the virus returned, and now we have a new outbreak.
Today, he’s trying to escape responsibility for that failure. He’s creating panic to justify shutting down entire industries and destroying others. He’s doing this by distorting the coronavirus data so the situation will look blacker and more frightening than it really is.
But the demon actually isn’t so terrible. The most important figure, the number of patients on ventilators, totals just 41 people, when Netanyahu scared us with 10,000 (!). Just a week ago, he said the number of seriously ill patients would soon be in the thousands, but today there are only 120, and much of the growth has stemmed from a change in how they are defined – a stinking maneuver.
Moreover, only nine percent of the new carriers are over age 60, so the risk of seriously ill patients has decreased. In addition, doctors have learned more about the disease, so treatment in the hospitals has improved greatly; that’s why the number of deaths has been low. In other words, we have huge safety margins that enable us to reopen the economy, as long as we strictly observe the social distancing, mask-wearing and hygiene rules.
A true leader would have told the public all this. He would have said the coronavirus demon has weakened, and therefore, it’s possible to reopen the economy. He could also have added that the number of deaths might rise, but that’s a price that must be paid so that hundreds of thousands of people won’t go hungry, leading some to commit suicide.
We let people drive at speeds of 100 kilometers per hour even though this costs lives. We also limit the size of the health-care budget, even though the price of doing so is death. We need to act similarly with regard to the coronavirus – especially since the number of people dying due to unemployment and depression is likely to be higher than the number dying from the virus.
But Netanyahu isn’t a leader; he’s an actor. He’s not made of the same material as leaders who made truly difficult decisions, like Winston Churchill or David Ben-Gurion. He doesn’t have the courage to tell the nation the truth, and certainly not to do the right thing.