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'You Really Believe Netanyahu Wants the Coronavirus Pandemic to Last?'

Nehemia Shtrasler
Nehemia Shtrasler
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Benjamin Netanyahu during a visit to Rambam Health Care Campus, Haifa, October 19, 2020.
Benjamin Netanyahu during a visit to Rambam Health Care Campus, Haifa, October 19, 2020.Credit: Kobi Gideon/GPO
Nehemia Shtrasler
Nehemia Shtrasler

Some good friends of mine were indignant: “You really believe that Bibi wants the coronavirus pandemic to last, so he can use it for his personal needs? That’s inhuman. It doesn’t make sense. You shouldn’t think that.” They were referring to my September 18 article (in Haaretz’s Hebrew edition) that argued exactly that.

I thought it over and realized that these friends are people who are too good and too moral to conceive of a prime minister who was elected to do good knowingly sacrificing public health and writing off a million unemployed, just to evade trial.

Haaretz Podcast: Why is Israel arming Azerbaijan against Armenia? Listen to Yossi MelmanCredit: Haaretz

So maybe this will convince them: All day and all night Netanyahu is in the grip of a tremendous panic that never leaves him – the thought that he could end his career in the same small cell with the same narrow bed in Ma’asiyahu prison where Ehud Olmert spent a year and a half. And in order to escape that outcome, he will rule out nothing.

Let me be clear, I’m not saying that Netanyahu wants people to get sick or die. He wants the pandemic to not disappear. He does not want a return to normal. He wants the emergency period to continue, for chaos to reign, for businesses to open and close like an accordion, and for the Israeli public to cry out to the heavens: Save us, Bibi. Save us like you saved us from the dreaded nuclear threat from Iran. After all, Bibi, the world expert in sowing fear and anxiety, has no equal when it comes to spurring terrified voters to cast their ballots for Likud.

Today, stage two of his four-part plan has arrived. This is the stage where he lifts the second lockdown, but does so in a way that ensures the infection rate doesn’t drop too much. Albert Einstein famously said: “Insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results.” But Netanyahu isn’t insane or stupid. He is repeating exactly the same policy of a chaotic and irresponsible reopening of the economy, just as he did after the first lockdown, in order to get the same results: Another outbreak of the epidemic. It’s not insanity. It’s precise planning.

Someone who genuinely wished to halt the pandemic would not open up all the preschools and afternoon programs with no restrictions and no testing. He would not permit weddings with up to 40 guests, not including staff. He obviously would not allow preschools to open in the five “red” cities with the highest infection rates. He would, however, impose large fines on ultra-Orthodox schools and yeshivas that brazenly break the law and halt their funding. Otherwise, his aim would clearly be to boost the chain of infection, rather than break it.

As the cold and rainy month of December approaches, it will be time for stage three of his plan. The already rising infection rate will soar thanks to the lethal combination of the flu and the coronavirus. Consequently, hospitals will be overcrowded and under extreme strain, and the infection rates will break records. Hospital directors will warn that the system is collapsing and the panic will reach a peak. Which is just when Netanyahu will announce that Israel must enter a third lockdown, and this time it must be total and of long duration and apply to the entire country. Everything must come to a halt, including court proceedings. And thus his trial will be postponed.

Yisrael Katz, the indentured servant, who for a long time already has been operating solely in accordance with the boss’ orders, now tells us it is impossible to pass the 2021 budget by the end of December. This is an outright lie. It is certainly possible. Katz just doesn’t want to do so, because his master is planning to bring down the government in December and trigger an early election in March 2021 – in blatant violation of the rotation agreement with Benny Gantz.

The March election is stage four of Netanyahu’s plan. He knows Likud will take a hit, but hopes that together with Naftali Bennett and the Haredim he can obtain a majority. He’ll offer a rotation agreement to Bennett (which he’ll also break, of course), on one condition: that Bennett agrees to pass the so-called French Law in the Knesset, which would postpone Netanyahu’s trial until the end of his term. In response, Attorney General Avichai Mendelblit would resign, and Netanyahu would appoint an attorney general chosen by his wife Sara, one who would cancel the trial for “lack of public interest.”

This is how Netanyahu will escape Olmert’s narrow cell, leave behind a devastated economy, widespread poverty and hardship, the wreckage of a once-glorious justice system, and the rubble of a destroyed democracy.

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