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Netanyahu Panicked, Health Ministry Fumbled: Three Comments on Coronavirus in Israel

Nehemia Shtrasler
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Soldiers and police wearing masks in central Jerusalem on April 1, 2020.
Soldiers and police wearing masks in central Jerusalem on April 1, 2020.Credit: Ohad Zwigenberg
Nehemia Shtrasler

1. Netanyahu. I saw the prime minister on Wednesday evening – and it was scary. He was in panic mode. Totally hysterical. He’s lost his cool. It doesn’t surprise me. Netanyahu is incapable of withstanding any pressure, incapable of standing up to any protest. He is a coward by nature. He is anxious in normal times, all the more so in this time of coronavirus. “I’ve decided to give a special stipend for Passover,” he announced in a tremulous voice. I and not an angel, I and not a seraph, I and not an emissary, but the Holy One blessed be He… I will toss money to you out of helicopters so you will love me and not toss me out of my job. I used to think that Santa Claus’ only game was Christmas, but now it turns out he also shows up for Passover.

On Tuesday, Arye Dery said he’d like the see the public receive some money for the holiday, and 24 hours later announced a 500-shekel stipend per child and 500-shekel stipend for every elderly person, without any professional discussion of this plan with the economists at the Finance Ministry. This of course is especially advantageous for the Haredi public. Naturally, MK Yisrael Eichler of United Torah Judaism was quick to praise the move. Most families have at least four children, which is far from the case among the secular public. Moreover – the yeshiva students don’t work, and therefore were not fired. Their financial situation did not suddenly worsen. They continue to receive all the same government stipends. So why give them this bonus? For obviously when a sum is distributed to those who aren’t impacted, less remains for those who are impacted: , the self-employed and the business owners who’ve been forced to close their doors.

Haaretz Weekly Ep. 70

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For two weeks, the treasury worked on an economic plan that is all about helping those who have suffered a major financial blow because of the crisis, and then Netanyahu suddenly decides to hand out money to everyone indiscriminately: including those in the top one percent, diamond moguls, bankers and the grandchildren of Shari Arison, Yitzhak Tshuva and Rami Levy. All in a bid to avoid being tossed out of power. All out of panic and losing his cool. What a disgrace that he resorts to lowly populism.

2. Yaakov Litzman. It was quite incredible this week to hear the health minister say so emphatically that “Bnei Brak should be placed under closure because the situation there is terrible.” Terrible? This is the same Litzman who opposed restricting Purim celebrations, which led to the massive . He turned the holiday into a horror. After that he opposed closing synagogues and ritual baths for men, and even supported continued study in the yeshivot. Litzman turned Bnei Brak into Israel’s Wuhan. Not until death came knocking on doors all over the city did he panic and change direction. I wish him a full recovery , but after 10 years on the job, it is time for him to go. Most of his work was aimed at helping the Gur Hassidic sect, anyway.

3. Moshe Bar Siman Tov. For a month and a half after the epidemic erupted in Israel, the heads of the Health Ministry latched onto a misguided concept for curbing it. They decided that tests are bad and closure is good, despite the economic ruin. So they sufficed with just 400 tests per day with a single lab instead of 40,000 tests and 100 labs. Even the World Health Organization’s recommendation in mid-February to move toward mass testing did not move them. They did not purchase test kits and did not prepare any labs, so that even now only 6,000 tests are being done per day and not the 30,000 that Netanyahu had promised, and the results only come in after a critical five-day delay. They also didn’t acquire enough test swabs in time or protective gear for health workers, so hundreds of doctors are now in quarantine. They even opposed the use of masks, despite their proven success in Japan, South Korea, Hong Kong and the Czech Republic. This week, Bar Siman Tov suddenly said: Everyone must wear masks! But we haven’t forgotten Professor Siegal Sadetzki: “There is no reason to wear masks” or Professor Itamar Grotto “The masks are unnecessary.” Thus, the ministry’s top officials must also draw conclusions.