Knesset coronavirus committee Chair Dr. Yifat Shasha-Biton’s message to the coronavirus government was clear: “We will continue to insist that every directive that comes from the government has an orderly outline.” She said this yesterday just before the committee rejected the government’s closure order for restaurants and permitted them to remain open.
It’s impossible to overstate the importance of Shasha-Biton’s demand to understand the logic guiding the cabinet and the Health Ministry when they seek to impose draconian restrictions on the public that spell economic doom for many. Shasha-Biton described the government’s complete confusion regarding its communications with restaurant owners and said, “I can’t explain why they are acting this way. We need guidelines that will be easy for the public to understand, because the public is our main partner in the war against the virus.”
Shasha-Biton’s refusal to affirm the cabinet’s directives underscores the profound lack of trust between the public and the government, whose members are rightfully described as “detached from reality.” The public doesn’t trust the government, and doesn’t believe that the restrictions it imposes or lifts are to its benefit. Not when it comes to halting the spread of the virus or when it comes to stabilizing the economy and providing relief.
Without trust, you can’t impose restrictions on the public and expect cooperation and obedience. And trust can only be built when the public is a party to the decisions, via its elected representatives; when the public can see the connection between the restrictions and halting the spread of the virus; and when the public is confident the government will provide economic relief should heeding the restrictions result in economic harm.
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Health Minister Yuli Edelstein is acting as if the only thing he remembers from his time as Knesset Speaker is how to wield the hammer. Edelstein warned that Shasha-Biton would be to blame if a lockdown is imposed and called her demands to see accurate figures – about how many were infected in restaurants and how many at gyms – “childish.”
Edelstein could not be more wrong about this. There is nothing childish about wanting to be shown that the government is acting in a rational, consistent and objective manner. In fact, Edelstein’s demand that the Knesset bow to the cabinet’s every whim – even when the cabinet is acting so erratically, announcing restrictions and then hastily reversing itself – treats the Knesset like a small child who is supposed to obey its mommy and daddy in the government. A cabinet that understands that the Knesset is sovereign does not behave this way.
The coronavirus government has so far utterly failed to manage the crisis. Instead of threatening Shasha-Biton, seeking to oust her and to hem in the Knesset’s power by means of restrictive legislation, the cabinet should start working with full transparency, in an orderly and thoughtful way, and present data that will convince the public of the importance of the restrictions. Until that happens, fortunately Shasha-Biton is there to prevent total chaos.
The above article is Haaretz’s lead editorial, as published in the Hebrew and English newspapers in Israel.