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The Most Severe Side Effect of the Coronavirus

Noa Landau
Noa Landau
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Celebrating Purim last week in Tel Aviv during the daytime after nighttime curfew was put in place to curb COVID-19 spread.
Celebrating Purim last week in Tel Aviv during the daytime after nighttime curfew was put in place to curb COVID-19 spread.Credit: Tomer Appelbaum
Noa Landau
Noa Landau

Until the coronavirus outbreak, Israelis could delude themselves into thinking that they lived in a functioning country. That the government and its institutions, with all their flaws, were, in the main, staffed with people who had generally good intentions and mediocre to reasonable abilities. 

It’s true that public services were not the most efficient or innovative and were often downright illogical – we are still sending faxes in the 21st century and at times must pick up mailed packages from the grocery store – but they operated at a fairly decent level. That is, as long as you were a middle- or upper-class Jew and didn’t have too many expectations. 

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Children, for example, once went to preschool and then to school. What they learned there wasn’t so clear – perhaps it was better that we didn’t know – but they went, and stayed there a few hours a day. And when they came home, they looked more or less the same as when they had left. The government even managed to build a train track from the capital to the big city, in the end.

With regard to all the “big” national issues – critical decisions relating to foreign relations, security, the economy – what we didn’t know didn’t exactly hurt us. The prevailing view was that the decision-making process behind the scenes may not be perfect, but it was probably reasoned and accompanied by some sort of professional discussion. After all, we’re the security champions, aren’t we?

We also tended to be forgiving of the messy nature of local bureaucracy, focusing on the advantages of being able to improvise. We always knew that things didn’t function like a Swiss watch here, but if you beg the guard at an Israeli bank to let you in a minute after closing time, they won’t shut the door on you. We pinned all our hopes on this improvisational character of ours, which ostensibly put Israeli high-tech on the map, to save us in an emergency.

Protestors in Jerusalem at weekly protest against Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in December.Credit: Emil Salman

Then came the pandemic and with it,  the most severe side effect of the virus, which will impact us for many years to come – the final, ugly and public demise of Israelis’ trust in the authorities. And this trust, even if it’s often shaky or blind, is the basis for all facets of life in a community. Without it there is no state, only autonomous groups scattered over a piece of land, each trying to get what it can at the other’s expense.

From the moment COVID-19 crossed Israel’s border a year ago, it became clear – in a way that can never be reversed – how things really look behind the scenes: the chaos, the deals, the vested interests, the discrimination, the stupidity and the evil.

This realization, which killed off the last of our faith in the reasonably functioning government theory, is now expressing itself in extreme ways. People who until yesterday looked normal, are convinced that “they” are trying to inject computer chips into them via the coronavirus vaccines, don’t believe a single Health Ministry statistic, aren’t prepared to follow guidelines that are selectively enforced – and in general don’t believe in anyone or anything. Critical thinking, which was lacking even before the pandemic, has been replaced by the other extreme – perceiving reality as a conspiracy. 

All this came on top of the already crushed confidence in law enforcement, which had been trampled on by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in his battle against the criminal investigations against him.

Someday, and it probably won’t be long, the coronavirus pandemic will end. There will be a remedy for that. But not for the loss of trust. What we’ve discovered we won’t be able to forget. If someday this government is replaced, the new government’s first order of business will be a lengthy quest to restore this lost faith. At this point, it doesn’t look as if that’s even possible.

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