Opinion |

Can Someoe Please Tell Israelis That the Pandemic Is Not Over?

Asaf Friedman
Asaf Friedman
People fill the pedestrian zone in the Levinsky Market, Tel Aviv.
People fill the pedestrian zone in the Levinsky Market, Tel Aviv. Credit: Tomer Appelbaum
Asaf Friedman
Asaf Friedman

These weeks mark the 80th anniversaries of Winston Churchill’s historic speeches, the “Blood, toil, tears and sweat,” speech, given in May 1940, and his two speeches in June of that year, “We shall fight on the beaches,” and “This was their finest hour.” Churchill was seeking to both motivate his people while also warning them that confronting the Nazis would require great effort and sacrifice.

It is commonly thought, apparently with good reason, that those tough times brought out the best in people – their courage and volunteerism. When Hitler tried to break the Britons’ spirit with the intense bombing campaign known as the Blitz, he soon learned that their resilience and fortitude only got stronger.

Bibi swears in his colossal coalition and readies for a courtroom showdown Credit: Haaretz

Nowadays we are also facing a frightening and threatening challenge. True, the coronavirus is not at all similar to the destruction and disaster of World War II, nor does it raise the same moral questions since it isn’t the work of man. Still, one can discern three clearly defined types of Israeli that have sprung up during the recent period – the fools, the disdainers and the failures.

Israelis play football on a beach in Tel Aviv, May 2020. No face masks or talk of coronavirus in sight.Credit: Tomer Appelbaum

The Health Ministry guidelines for these times explicitly require the wearing of masks in the public domain and the observance of social distancing in public spaces. The Purple Badge regulations, which allow stores and businesses to reopen, demand that employees and customers observe additional rules. You don’t have to be Sherlock Holmes to see that the average Israeli doesn’t consider these rules binding.

At this point one has to wonder about the smarts of the renowned barista at the corner café near my home, a young, smiley guy who has his mask around his neck because wearing it over his nose and mouth is uncomfortable. And does the friendly hummus maker who decides to serve his food without gloves and with his mask hanging on one ear also have a problem processing basic information? Is he incapable of understanding that he is liable to be spreading the coronavirus?

If one could explain the barista and hummus maker’s behavior as simple carelessness, there is another kind of behavior that can only be described as downright insolent. During this difficult time, when social order and explicit regulations require of Israelis a ridiculously small dose of sweat and tears, many of them have decided they just can’t make the effort.

Tel Avivians enjoy the warm weather at the Hilton beach sans face masks.Credit: Tomer Appelbaum

Can we describe as “misinterpretation” the behavior of the dozens of people who descend on the park near my house and who for the past two months have been playing cat and mouse with the police sent to disperse them with exceptional pleasantness? The sunbathers simply run around the corner until the police proceed to their next call, and slowly sneak back to the park, because “nothing will happen to me” and how long can a person stay home?”

But that’s just the point. What turns this flouting of the regulations into pure evil is that one can assume that most of the scofflaws won’t get seriously ill if they contract the virus. But if you would ask each one of them if they would walk around without a mask and just go about their business if their parents’ lives were at stake, I’m pretty certain the answer would be “no.” Yet they aren’t thinking about someone else’s parents.

Perhaps there are those among the masses who are deliberately violating the authorities’ regulation because they know something that this writer doesn’t know. That it was all a mistake, a misunderstanding, and that there really isn’t any danger from the disease that has taken hundreds of thousands of lives all over the world. That it’s all a plot with many participants whose aim is to keep Benjamin Netanyahu in power.

But if this isn’t the case, and the battle against the coronavirus is real, then the Israeli leadership is weak, and failing in its duty. If there is a need for all the guidelines the state has issued, and if the public isn’t observing them, then they should be enforced until the public understands the circumstances. If the friendly barista would have to pay 200 shekels ($57) every time he lowered his mask, I have a feeling he would get the message. If the state is afraid to anger its citizens to get them to act responsibly, then we have a serious problem.

During Britain’s difficult times in World War II, Churchill made a point of being seen in public, of visiting sites that were bombed and of serving as an example to his people. Our prime minister likes to compare himself to the British leader, but unlike Churchill, Netanyahu violated the Health Ministry regulations (on Seder night, for example), as did President Reuven Rivlin. That certainly doesn’t make it easier for Israelis to obey the rules, which seem to change every day as it is. But even the leadership failure is no excuse for so many people to act with disdain toward those around them. This is our time to wear masks – on the beaches, in stores, in the fields and on the street.

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