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Tell Us the Truth. Why Does Israel Have a Second Lockdown?

Ravit Hecht
Ravit Hecht
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Ultra-Orthodox men walking near a police cordon in the central Israeli city of Bnei Brak, September 6, 2020.
Ultra-Orthodox men walking near a tape cordoning off a high coronavirus infection area in the central Israeli city of Bnei Brak, September 6, 2020.Credit: Ofer Vaknin
Ravit Hecht
Ravit Hecht

Deputy Health Minister Yoav Kish has emerged as an unconscious truth-whisperer. Do you want to know the truth? Forget about the Health Ministry’s propaganda and the cliches parroted by people who relate with utter seriousness to terms such as “the program to break the chain of transmission.” Simply listen to Kish.

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On Wednesday he admitted that the new lockdown is not expected to bring about a significant drop in the incidence of infection (subject to the behavior of the public, of course, the insurance policy in which every statement is wrapped). On Thursday he said that if the lockdown doesn’t work, in a week the restrictions are likely to be tightened, on the way to an “old-style” lockdown.

The latest remark could be seen as a warning to the public – a yellow card, in the language of soccer – but it wouldn’t be crazy to view it as a natural continuation of the first. The logical conclusion from combining them is that the cabinet is trying to slip in a “soft lockdown,” with a slim chance of success, as an interim measure before imposing a full lockdown.

Instead of attacking Kish, we should be praising him. After all, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and coronavirus czar Prof. Ronni Gamzu don’t dare say these things.

The first sentence exposes the folly of this strange lockdown: If it won’t be ineffective, why impose it in the first place and pay the heavy price it involves? The second sentence – in addition to being a bleak, depressing prophecy, and who likes to hear those? – exposes the lack of good faith of the policymakers, who are afraid to announce a full lockdown despite believing that it will be inevitable. They also refrain from admitting the failure that landed us in this predicament.

Benjamin Netanyahu, right, and Ronni Gamzu visiting the Shaarei Tzedek coronavirus "war-room", Aug. 6, 2020Credit: Emil Salman

Gamzu promised, when he agreed to coordinate the government’s pandemic policy, to create “a new contract” to restore the public’s trust in the leadership. Even if it wasn’t his fault, the exact opposite has happened. Contradictory directives and alarmed firing from the hip cause damage to the public – such as the sudden decision to close schools Thursday rather than Friday, as parents had been told, as though one day could make the difference between disaster and taking control of the pandemic.

This is a hypocritical policy, that imprisons simple folk in prolonged seclusion with rules that don’t always make sense, while granting exemptions and mitigations to the privileged, like the members of the prime minister’s entourage to the United States, political pressure groups and many others. All these signal to the public that its leaders are not telling it the truth.

Even Gamzu’s agenda – to avoid lockdown at any cost – collapsed rapidly and he has recently become one of the main advocates for the measure.

Israel is a banana republic, from top to bottom. The cabinet ministers don’t obey the coronavirus czar, the public doesn’t (fully) comply with the directives, the prime minister lies like he breathes and so on. This has an upside. Contrary to many people’s deep fears, real fascism will never take hold here: Someone will fail to send the fax with the correct spelling of the head of the opposition, or the bus driver for the reeducation camps will fail to wake up in time in the morning.

That’s the real mentality of “startup nation,” which comes to the fore during a crisis as dramatic as the coronavirus. And yet, the leadership manages to break records even in this genre.

Instead of lies and deception or apologetic self-pity after the fact, a la President Reuven Rivlin, we need to hear the truth, however depressing it may be, and for our leaders to play by the rules that apply to everyone.

Instead of an erratic pendulum movement between “the greatest crisis to civilization in the past century” and total indifference and obsessive preoccupation with his trial and the protester outside his home, Netanyahu ought to maintain a tedious routine of struggle, including clashes with his political partners when necessary. This may sound like an overly naive wish, but there is no alternative. It will be very painful if we leave it to reality to prove it to us.

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