The closer we get to the Jewish holidays that start on September 18, the greater the chance we’ll celebrate them under a lockdown because of the sharp jump in coronavirus infections. The numbers don’t leave any doubt about the government’s failure to manage the crisis.
On Monday, another record was broken, with 3,392 new cases. In August there were 416 deaths from COVID-19, over twice as many as in April, the previous record month. The number of coronavirus patients in serious condition is rising steadily, too. All this is happening because the government isn’t making decisions, and when it does, it backs down under pressure.
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This pattern of behavior has very much weakened trust in the government, and thus has increased the danger when people don’t follow the instructions. It has also strengthened the opposition by various groups to these decisions, which appear made on a whim. From the outside this looks like serious anarchy in the government, and if we listen to what the senior professionals have to say, that’s what it looks like on the inside, too.
The only logic that can be found in this insanity and chaos is Benjamin Netanyahu’s preference to worsen the crisis so that we’ll have our backs to the wall – and then it will be easier to make decisions. This is a familiar tactic for crisis management when a dead end has been reached, but it’s more suitable for managerial and business crises, not health crises where people’s lives are at risk.
The worsening of the crisis will be expressed in a greater number of deaths, a greater number of patients in serious condition and a cry from the health system about its growing difficulties in helping the public. This is designed to provide legitimacy to take action.
It can be said that Netanyahu folds, gives in to threats and gets dragged along because of his legal and political problems, but the result is a cynical way to solve the crisis: making the outbreak worse to create legitimacy for a lockdown of the entire country, instead of pinpointing the hot spots. This is a conscious choice. Netanyahu’s fear of confrontation with the mayors of ultra-Orthodox cities has dictated this wanton behavior.
He knows quite well that this is a very asymmetrical crisis in the harm being done – both concerning health and socioeconomic matters. An asymmetric crisis requires asymmetric solutions, but such solutions create tensions and political pressure.
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This is where leadership is needed. Netanyahu has more talent than any other politician in selling ideas. His failure to explain asymmetric treatment of the crisis to the ultra-Orthodox community reflects a serious failure of leadership. He’s fleeing confrontation so that he won’t lose his most loyal political partners.
In the economic arena as well, Netanyahu chose an inefficient symmetrical solution when he decided to give every citizen a coronavirus grant at Passover and a month ago; billions of shekels have gone to people who haven’t been hurt by the crisis and/or don’t need the money. Netanyahu chose an expensive and inefficient solution to speed up the payment of this cash and gain popularity.
This could happen again soon if the recommendation by the chairman of the National Economic Council, Avi Simhon, is adopted. To encourage consumption, Simhon wants to lower VAT to 12 percent from 17 percent. Such a step would cut the lower classes’ shopping bills but also grant the groups not harmed by the coronavirus crisis expensive tax benefits that they don’t need.
Time after time Netanyahu has opted for unwise, inefficient solutions that avoid conflict – and will cost us lives and enormous resources. He’s fulfilling what he said over a decade ago about his predecessor, Ehud Olmert: “There is a fear he will make decisions based on his personal interest for his own political survival and not based on the national interest.”
The tactic he has chosen – making the crisis worse so it will be possible to solve it – is brutal, cynical and cowardly.