Opinion |

The Coronavirus Crisis Shows the Disgrace That Is Israel's Health Minister

A photo of Dr. Zvi Bar'el.
Zvi Bar'el
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Benjamin Netanyahu holds a situation assessment meeting with Health Minister Yaakov Litzman regarding the coronavirus, at the Health Ministry in Tel Aviv, February 23, 2020.
Benjamin Netanyahu holds a situation assessment meeting with Health Minister Yaakov Litzman regarding the coronavirus, at the Health Ministry in Tel Aviv, February 23, 2020.Credit: POOL/ REUTERS
A photo of Dr. Zvi Bar'el.
Zvi Bar'el

After a unity government emerges, the coronavirus will still be spreading. The number of infected will not go down. It’s expected to rise, and the seriously ill will be waiting for respirators and the self-employed and unemployed will scrape through the last of their savings while the same indicted master of rhetoric will continue to fill our TV screens.

Haaretz Weekly Ep. 72

This fat and heavy “unity” government will perhaps create the impression that there is finally a leadership that knows what it’s doing, whose ministers are very busy handling the crisis and its victims, and that the additions it got in the form of ministers from the Hosen L’Yisrael and Labor parties will at the same time be protecting democracy.

After all, there couldn’t be more exciting news than the rare fusion of authoritarian rule that relies on emergency regulations with gatekeepers who will monitor the proportionality of the force used against civilians and balance out the savagery and gangsterism of the previous government with justice, culture or welfare ministers from the humane and polite side of the political spectrum.

It’s all a bluff. For the next several weeks or perhaps months, the ones managing the country will not be the elected officials, politicians trying to advance social welfare or a national agenda. It will be clerks, experts, advisers, policemen, inspectors, corporations, intelligence agencies and even soldiers who will all be directed toward one mission: eliminating the coronavirus.

This mission will leave no room for chatter about democracy, patients’ rights or minority rights. The public’s capitulation is so complete that even a “thin” government or even a sole ruler could fulfill this role. Any order issued by the leadership – any leadership – will be fully obeyed out of fear of COVID-19, fines or arrest, or because no one has any better way to cope with this virus.

But even within this blind, obedient suffocation, about which we may later ask whether it was responsible and necessary, one must still decry the unparalleled disgrace of Health Minister Yaakov Litzman. This curiosity promised that the Messiah would arrive on Passover and then all would be well. He has given no indication that he’s awoken from his winter hibernation. This man, who takes his orders from flesh-and-blood messiahs and believes that this epidemic is another test from God for the children of Israel (and Ishmael) before he sends them the Messiah, is ostensibly responsible for the most important struggle in the history of the state – but in actuality, he’s responsible for nothing.

It’s doubtful that he is able to follow the explanations of his own director general, Moshe Bar Siman Tov, that he understands exponential graphs or can participate in a professional discussion in the cabinet. His voice has not been heard during discussions about the emergency budget that’s befallen the state.

Does he even have a position? Does he believe that the amount allocated to the health system is enough? If we were talking about a budget for yeshivas, we surely would have heard a roar that would have shaken the foundations. But according to reports, he has mainly nodded or remained silent. If there’s a point when the public breaks from the burden this epidemic has imposed on it and perhaps rebels, it won’t be because people don’t accept the guidelines or don’t believe in them. It will be because they have a hard time reconciling the seriousness with which they are required to address the virus, and this joke of a health minister.

Litzman doesn’t need to be quarantined; he simply must go. For a man who has been running the health system for nine years, he has a very strange list of achievements. It begins with his demand to allow medical treatment for people declared brain dead, includes failed mental health reform and its sister, cannabis reform, which has hurt thousands of people, and ends with the suspicions against him in the case of suspected child abuser Malka Leifer. Perhaps he should be given the Israel Prize for his contribution to the collapse of the health system.

If among the political deals that will emerge from the negotiations on the unity government there is no agreement to remove Litzman from his seat, don’t let them confuse you with their talk of solidarity, unity and claims that “they” understand our difficulties.

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