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Netanyahu the Virus Vector

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Netanyahu wears a protective mask, amid the spread of the coronavirus disease (COVID-19), as he holds a weekly cabinet meeting at the Foreign Ministry in Jerusalem, July 5, 2020.
Netanyahu wears a protective mask, amid the spread of the coronavirus disease (COVID-19), as he holds a weekly cabinet meeting at the Foreign Ministry in Jerusalem, July 5, 2020.Credit: POOL/ REUTERS

When the prophet Elijah was castigating King Ahab for the lethal takeover of a vineyard belonging to Naboth the Jezreelite, he asked him: “Hast thou killed and also taken possession?” Little did he know that 2,900 years later, his words would apply to another king, Netanyahu I.

The prime minister’s TV appearances make me apoplectic. This is someone who panicked while managing the handling of the pandemic on his own, unwarrantedly boasting that “we’re the best in the world.” We were so great that we’re now the worst, and is to blame for this. Still, he’s trying to profit from his huge mishandling of the crisis. Isn’t that maddening?

After all, it was Netanyahu who warmly embraced all the Health Ministry’s recommendations during the pandemic's first round, even though other experts were saying the opposite. Instead of conducting many tests and isolating infected people in designated housing, he allowed a tiny 400 tests a day.

When the number of infected people soared, he imposed a lockdown on most of , which destroyed it, causing massive unemployment; 1 million people lost their jobs. We’re still paying that heavy price.

The lockdown halted the pandemic, and the number of daily new cases dropped to 50, even below. At that moment, Israel could have opted for antibody testing, as many experts suggested, while placing in quarantine anyone who came into contact with those 50, a move that would have vanquished the pandemic. But instead, Netanyahu celebrated with great fanfare, calling on everyone to “have fun.”

And we did. Monitoring fell by the wayside, with no investigation into the chains of infection. So now we’re getting 1,000 new cases a day, with a risk of another full lockdown that will drive unemployment to 2 million.

After this colossal failure, he still has the gall to tell us that only he can save us from this new outbreak, even though he’s the one responsible for it.

Last Thursday he returned to the TV screens with his familiar scare tactics, including beauties such as “we’re in the midst of a attack” and “thousands of gravely ill people can be expected soon.”

This is what he would say during the first wave, when he talked about 1 million sick people (so far there have been only around 30,750 cases) and 10,000 fatalities (compared with 334 as of Monday afternoon), as well as 10,000 people on ventilators (at the peak of the first round this number was 137, and only around 30 at present). At Sunday’s cabinet meeting he warned of a “total lockdown.” These are the actions of a hysterical person.

The problem is that he has phenomenal rhetorical and marketing skills; he can dupe people until they believe that he really looks after their health or cares about 700,000 unemployed citizens. The truth is, Netanyahu cares only about Netanyahu, or more precisely, about his corruption trial.

His TV appearance on the coronavirus followed the latest survey he held, which showed his waning popularity. In the economic sphere he got a failing grade, in health affairs a low one, so he decided to return to his comfort zone, television, to regain some of that lost popularity.

Popularity is important to him because he wants to remain prime minister, come what may. He knows that only from that position can he take extreme steps such as ousting Avichai Mendelblit and appointing a new attorney general who will cancel the corruption trial because it’s “not in the public interest.”

As part of his attempt to gain public sympathy, Netanyahu ceremoniously announced in that TV appearance that he would soon submit a new aid package for businesses in dire straits. But there was a little problem: This plan had been devised by Finance Minister Yisrael Katz, who had discussed it with his staff only that morning. Later in the day, he told Netanyahu about the plan, and the prime minister rushed to steal the idea.

Katz watched and gritted his teeth. I saw it and blew a fuse. The prophet Elijah would have written about this in words no less apt than the ones he used against King Ahab.