Opinion |

Welcome to Israel's Early Stages of Totalitarianism

yossi klein
Yossi Klein
A protester man waves an Israeli flag during a pro-democracy rally in Tel Aviv, April 16, 2020.
A protester man waves an Israeli flag during a pro-democracy rally in Tel Aviv, April 16, 2020.Credit: Tomer Appelbaum
yossi klein
Yossi Klein

In basic training we were told to forget about leave if we didn’t form groups of three within five seconds. Years later, we’re being told that one more minor disciplinary infraction and we’ll be grounded for two weeks.

Give us a break already. We’re not new recruits, we don’t need your displays of power. We see what’s happening around the world – social distancing, hand washing, watching where you sneeze.

We get it. We can take care of ourselves without the threats and intimidation. The 500-shekel ($141) fine for unnecessarily going outside is more threatening to us than the coronavirus.

No one wants to catch the virus or infect anyone else – not the guy jogging in the park or the small business owner. Earning a living isn’t on par with getting sick. The choice between dying from the disease and living without an income is hard, but it’s okay when a doctor gives us this choice, not a lying politician.

When Benjamin Netanyahu says the choice is between the economy and the disease we don’t believe him. How are we supposed to believe a bureaucrat who’s representing science and medicine and a liar who’s representing otherwise thoughtful and reliable leaders?

The combination of the director general of the Health Ministry, Moshe Bar Siman Tov, and Netanyahu doesn’t inspire trust. Trust between doctor and patient is vital. The combination of politics and medicine is destructive. No one takes responsibility and ultimately it passes on to us. What does Netanyahu know about health? Who really decides things? Definitely not Netanyahu. It’s not you, it’s your advisers, that famous falafel seller told him this week.

The advisers pressure him because he can be pressured. Press more and you’ll get more. Pressure from the doctors? Close the parks. Pressure from the economists? Ease the lockdown. Why? The one being pressed can’t explain, he only knows how to intimidate. Intimidation isn’t a medical technique, it’s a political one. The country was shut down not because it was necessary but because of a question from the ultra-Orthodox interior minister, Arye Dery: Why only Bnei Brak?

This government isn’t keeping children away from their elderly parents to protect the old people – that’s not what it cares about. It wants to send a message to the young people: Keep your old folks at home, like we’ve kept them in the old age homes. They’ll infect you, they’ll take your ventilators, they’ll crowd you out of the hospitals.

The intimidation is directed at the dumb masses. Maybe after the cabinet meeting three weeks ago, the ministers and associates asked the Health Ministry director general: Okay, seriously now, Bar Siman Tov, is it really dangerous to get together with the family? He answered: Don’t be silly, that’s just to keep them on a short leash. You know what they’re like. Give them an inch and they’ll take a mile. Just make sure you’re not caught on camera!

But Netanyahu did bring in the cameras. Arrogance overcame the fear, but not the panic. He’s a panicked prime minister. He goes to sleep in full makeup to always be ready to go on the air. Is he paranoid? Power and authority are a dangerous weapon in the hands of the paranoid. His finger trembles on the trigger. His eyes dart. One false move and he’ll mow us all down.

When someone paranoid is deciding about an exit from a lockdown, he might be horrified after his meeting with the Health Ministry director general, and shocked after his meeting with the Finance Ministry. He doesn’t know what to do. So he calls Yair. Sara answers. He tries to talk. She yells. He drops the phone and runs away. Out in the corridor he opens his laptop and types up a document for the exit from the lockdown. It’s very confusing. No one understands it.

It’s too bad the lockdown will be so flimsy and confused. We’re champs at lockdowns, after all. Fifty-three years of a lockdown in the territories is nothing to sneeze at. What luck that this is just the ticket for the coronavirus because, besides the lockdown, we haven’t done anything. We haven’t cured lots of people or put thousands on ventilators. We’ve just killed seniors in old age homes.

There were moments when we figured the lies and distorted data were destined to be fodder for a national commission of inquiry, but then we saw that there might not be any more of those things. Now we see that the last month hasn’t been a pilot project. It’s the real thing. This is what life after the coronavirus will look like. The Shin Bet security service and the surveillance won’t be going anywhere, nor will the open threats and contradictory instructions.

We’ve already bid farewell to checks and balances. There is no Knesset and the cabinet is a rubber stamp led by a liar. So it is in a totalitarian regime; this is what the first stages look like. We look around and say that things aren’t so bad, that health is what really matters. And besides, the spring is so lovely.

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