With Passover Eve upon us, the keyboard refuses to accept anymore doomsday scenarios or desolate visions of what we can expect in the coming months in the wake of the economic and social crisis caused by the coronavirus pandemic.
Yes, the decision-making is a mess and there is a lot of anxiety both health-wise and financially, with over a million unemployed, and hundreds of thousands of self-employed who don’t know how they’ll survive the crisis. The government that could be emerging may also make many of us unhappy. But to paraphrase Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu: Leaving aside the sick, the dead, the unemployed and the bankrupt – Our situation is excellent. This is an exaggeration, of course, but there are still some encouraging things about the dynamic caused by the coronavirus crisis.
1. The pictures of IDF soldiers distributing food to the needy and to people shut inside their homes in Bnei Brak and other ultra-Orthodox neighborhoods are heartwarming and plant the hope that this will help topple the walls built up over many years in Haredi society’s attitude toward the army, by a hardline rabbinical establishment and maintained by cynical identity politics. This is not a victory for the IDF or science over unenlightened rabbis, it’s a victory of goodwill and solidarity shown by Israeli society toward a community in need. It’s doubtful that this will spur throngs of Haredi young men to enlist in the near future, but it will certainly make it clear to the extremists in that society who viewed the army as the enemy – just who was at their side in a time of trouble.
2. In the past two decades, there has been a trend towards increased private spending on health care in Israel due to the rise in the standard of living – mainly of those in the top income deciles. This stirred up a lot of tension between the need to strengthen the public health system and the ability of those with means to privately acquire health services.
The coronavirus crisis is being managed by the entire public health system, which highlights its importance and the fact that no matter how many private services there are, medicine is a public product. The degree of its publicness has eroded over the years: Public funding accounted for just 64 percent of spending on health care in Israel, 10 percent below the OECD average. Last month, the government allocated 10 billion shekels to provide the health system with urgent needs for handling the crisis. The coronavirus is a wakeup call for those who wished to expand the private sector of Israeli medicine.
3. Before the coronavirus crisis erupted, only 4 percent of Israeli employees worked from home, despite the many options for working remotely offered by the internet and related technology. A survey by the Central Bureau of Statistics found that in late March, when the closure restrictions were in force, the rate of people working from home was up to 21 percent.
It’s too soon to gauge the productivity of working from home, but it’s already possible to see how much such a solution could contribute to reducing congestion on the highways, air pollution and time wasted in traffic jams. If this arrangement becomes more common once the crisis abates and we see a higher rate of people working from home, it could be a good antidote to the transportation hell we’ve witnessed in Gush Dan in recent years.
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- About 75 Percent of Jerusalem Coronavirus Cases Are Haredi
- 'The Coronavirus Finally Gave the World a Chance to Feel What We Gazans Have Always Felt'
4. We need to get used to the idea that major crises seem to occur about once every decade. In the previous decade it was the global financial crisis that led to the rise of populist politicians and a professional bureaucracy called the Deep State.
The current crisis underscores the crucial role of professionals and scientists in problem solving. The flippant attitude initially adopted by British Prime Minister Boris Johnson and U.S. President Donald Trump, who scoffed at the danger of coronavirus, has been dealt a serious blow, and this may help recalibrate a balance between elected officials and public servants and point up the importance of having social safety nets.
5. After the disappointment and breakup of the potential alternative to Likud and Netanyahu, it’s a good thing Israel will soon have a new government. Israel cannot afford to hold another election.