Opinion |

Netanyahu, Who’s to Blame for Israel's 4,000 Coronavirus Dead?

Nehemia Shtrasler
Nehemia Shtrasler
Benjamin Netanyahu at the arrival of the Pfizer/Biotech vaccine in Israel, Ben Gurion Airport, November 1, 2021.
Benjamin Netanyahu at the arrival of the Pfizer/Biotech vaccine in Israel, Ben Gurion Airport, November 1, 2021.Credit: Kobi Gideon / GPO
Nehemia Shtrasler
Nehemia Shtrasler

Rivka Ravhon and Helen Czana died from the coronavirus. Their families are now sitting shiva and asking: Who’s responsible for their deaths? And we ask: Who’s responsible for the deaths of 4,000 Israelis since the pandemic began?

If Bibi Netanyahu was in the opposition and Yair Lapid was prime minister, it’s clear what would be happening. Bibi would be organizing mass demonstrations every week, and thundering to the nation: “Death from the coronavirus is like death from a terror attack. Forty dead per day (the current weekly rate) is the same as a bus full of people being blown up in bombings day after day, and the blood is on Yair Lapid’s hands.” And the whipped-up audience would respond in unison: “With blood and fire, we’ll get rid of Lapid!”

Everybody wants their vote. But what do Israeli-Arab voters want? LISTEN to our podcastCredit: Everybody wants their vote. But what do Israeli-Arab voters want? LISTEN to our podcast

Bibi would be spending his days hopping from funeral to funeral, and his evenings hopping from one shiva call to another. Every day he would stage a photo-op next to a new bus and say to the camera: “Look, here’s another bus, 40 living people sat here, good people, and now they’re all dead. And tomorrow there will be another bus like it, and another one the day after that …” and we’d all look on in horror and tears.

Television crews would follow him everywhere, to every event, to every demonstration, and put the number of dead at the top of the news. The editor of the broadcast would place a “scoreboard” prominently on screen to count the dead: 4,000, 4,001, 4,002 … The protests on Balfour Street would look different too. The Bibi adherents would run riot, vandalizing property and assaulting police officers. The sky would split from all the cries: 4,000 dead! We haven’t forgotten the demonstration in Zion Square, or the march in Ra’anana, or Bibi coming to Dizengoff Street to be filmed next to the charred No. 5 bus when the bodies had yet to be removed, standing there and blaming Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin. No one tops Bibi when it comes to exploiting a deadly incident for political purposes.

But right now Bibi is in power and the opposition is in a coma. Let’s forget about Naftali Bennett, Bibi’s whipping boy, and let’s ask Avigdor Lieberman, Moshe Ya’alon, Yair Lapid, Ron Huldai and Gideon Sa’ar: Don’t you understand that 4,000 dead is a game-changer? How can you not be talking about this all day long? You know that in Israel, death is a sensitive subject, and rightly so. We are a nation that can’t absorb losses.

And Bibi, because he understands this very well, keeps telling us that Israel is in a better situation in terms of the number of fatalities than countries like Italy, France and Germany. He neglects to mention that these countries have 100-150 transit points with the rest of Europe that cannot be sealed, while we have just a single entry point: Ben-Gurion International Airport.

We should rightly be compared to island (or peninsula) countries. The picture, in that case, is horrifying: Taiwan has had just seven fatalities, Singapore 29, Cyprus 167, Vietnam 35, Thailand 70, New Zealand 25 – and we’ve had 4,000! And in all of these countries, there are no new fatalities. Life has returned to normal, more or less. Because there the leaders worried about their people, while here the leader worries about canceling his trial, and this contradiction caused major fiascos: Bibi opposed doing more than 400 tests a day, he opposed testing the elderly in nursing homes, he refused to hand authority for handling the pandemic to the Home Front Command, and did nothing to prevent the large weddings in Haredi and Arab communities. He allowed mass events to continue in the rabbis’ dynasties, and Haredi elementary schools and yeshivas to keep operating.

He even opposed increasing fines for violators and implementing Ronni Gamzu’s traffic light plan. He did not apply a differential approach to focus on the virus hotspots, he did not cut off the chains of infection, and thus we’ve ended up with one lengthy lockdown after another. He turned the airport into a super-spreader station for the virus by not preventing the entry of 12,000 yeshiva students from New York or of vacationers returning from Turkey and Dubai. Is it any wonder we’ve reached 4,000 dead?

I feel sad for Rivka Ravhon and Helen Czana, and I wonder: Would they still be alive today if we had a different prime minister?

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