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Netanyahu’s Coronavirus Failure

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Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in the Knesset for the vote on delaying the budget deadline, August 24, 2020.
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in the Knesset for the vote on delaying the budget deadline, August 24, 2020. Credit: Oren Ben Hakon

The coronavirus keeps on spreading through Israel. Every day, more than 2,000 new patients are diagnosed. More than 400 seriously ill patients have been hospitalized, and the number of people dying every day is in the double digits.

On Wednesday, the country even hit a new peak in daily infections – more than 3,000 new diagnoses. Israel now has one of the highest weekly infection rates in the world relative to its population.

These harsh statistics are the direct result of the country’s lack of leadership and failed management. And the main address for this failure is Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. His policy for exiting the lockdown this spring was a failure, he waited much too long before appointing a coronavirus czar, and even after tapping Ronni Gamzu for that post, he hasn’t granted him the basic working conditions for turning the situation around.

A good example of this is his incompetent handling of the ultra-Orthodox community. In the first wave, the Haredim were dealt a severe blow, then they seemed to have come to their senses and started to grasp their mistake. But since then there has been worrisome backsliding – a school that opened in defiance of the rules in Betar Ilit, a Belz Hasidic wedding with a massive guest list, people refusing to get tested and the insistence on flying to Uman for Rosh Hashanah.

The people mainly to blame for this are leaders of the ultra-Orthodox community and Netanyahu. The former, instead of promoting cooperation and obedience to the rules, are inciting their community to rebel against the regulations and have been preoccupied mainly with securing exemptions from the rules barring large gatherings. And Netanyahu, due to his desire to keep his alliance with the ultra-Orthodox alive, hasn’t dared take action or even speak out against the community, and has feared to give Gamzu backing.

The attacks on Gamzu, the reckless accusation that he’s causing antisemitism and the demands for him to resign are all evidence of how the dimensions of the danger haven’t been grasped.

Still, it seems that Netanyahu also isn’t committed to this battle. Aside from the coronavirus cabinet’s frequent threats to impose a lockdown over the upcoming Jewish holidays or other restrictions on the public, Netanyahu and his people have focused their battle on the demonstrations outside the prime minister’s residence in Jerusalem, even though the protests haven’t proved to be hotbeds of infection. Meanwhile, large events are still being allowed, the opening of the school year was a mess, and the existing restrictions are almost totally unenforced.

The Swedes unsuccessfully tried a model of letting the virus spread in a controlled way. Netanyahu is responsible for a new, reckless model of untrammeled infection.

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

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