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Netanyahu Is Handling the Coronavirus Crisis Like a Sole Ruler

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Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu during a press conference at the Prime minister's Office in Jerusalem, March 2020.
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu during a press conference at the Prime minister's Office in Jerusalem, March 2020.Credit: Emil Salman

A day after he presented the economic assistance plan to deal with the coronavirus crisis – an unprecedented plan that will cost 80 billion shekels ($22.1 billion) – Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu made another announcement on live TV about a Passover grant to be paid to every child and elderly person. “I decided, together with the finance minister, to give a special grant for Passover,” he said, like a grandfather announcing the prize for the child who stole the afikomen.

The total outlay for this grant will be 2 billion shekels and economic assessments, along with common sense, suggest that this is a waste of public funds. But common sense isn’t relevant when decisions are made by Netanyahu over the head of the Finance Ministry, and without consulting with any ministry officials. The prime minister simply decided that he felt like handing out a 2 billion shekel Passover gift, presumably believing that the hollow and populist gesture would improve his image, or score him points with voters in the ultra-Orthodox community.

Haredi leaders learn harsh corona lesson as Israel sends in the troopsCredit: Haaretz

This type of behavior has typified Netanyahu throughout the coronavirus crisis. He is acting like a sole ruler who commands his subjects to fulfill his orders without orderly staff work, proper administrative rules or an orderly decision-making process, and without consulting the professionals. He considers all that superfluous during this emergency period.

In many cases these have been capricious decisions that have changed from moment to moment, often due to irrelevant political factors. Thus, for example, it seems that due to the poor relations between Netanyahu and Defense Minister Naftali Bennett, they are both competing for the title of “who will save the homeland,” at least in terms of the public announcements and throwing around endless ideas, as though they were on a talent show rather than running a country.

The effort by the professional echelons to formulate orderly work procedures is repeatedly trampled upon by the Prime Minister’s Office. The result is billions of shekels being tossed in all directions without the money necessarily going to those who really need it. “My hands are trembling at the way the money is going out,” said a source at the Finance Ministry, according to TheMarker. The main thing is that private agents, who procure items for the state in mysterious ways and at controversial prices, come out ahead in the chaos.

At one of the toughest times Israel has ever known, its citizens are forced to watch as state’s affairs are managed in a confused, uncontrolled and primarily not very serious fashion. A swift end must be put to this farce. Instead of squabbling with Bennett, Netanyahu ought to quit the centralized and capricious management of the crisis, the populistic approach, and conduct orderly staff work while seriously consulting with professionals.

The above article is Haaretz’s lead editorial, as published in the Hebrew and English newspapers in Israel.

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