Israel's Failed Pandemic Government

Haaretz Editorial
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Benjamin Netanyahu Benny Gantz  arrive to attend a graduation ceremony for new pilots near Be'er Sheva on June 25, 2020.
Benjamin Netanyahu Benny Gantz arrive to attend a graduation ceremony for new pilots near Be'er Sheva on June 25, 2020.Credit: Ariel Schalit / POOL / AFP
Haaretz Editorial

The coronavirus crisis is looking more and more like coronavirus chaos. The number of infections is rising steadily and Israel seems to be gradually losing control over the pandemic. The Israeli Society for Infectious Diseases, part of the Israel Medical Association, said Sunday that Israel is nearing a “point of no return, from which it will be impossible to prevent mass infection and large numbers of seriously ill patients.”

Nor is the economic prognosis promising. The financial crisis has not yet bottomed out, is expected to be prolonged and to get worse. The unemployed rate is expected to rise further, and most of the reforms announced by the Finance Ministry are meaningless. The farce is only heightened by the news that the heads of the coronavirus government can’t even agree on a national budget.

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Although both Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and President Reuven Rivlin set a bad example when they violated the social-distancing guidelines during their respective Passover seders, the public respected the guidelines and Israel successfully flattened the curve and halted the first wave of infection. But the prime minister failed to take advantage of the calm to ready for the next storm, a second outbreak.

Netanyahu and the Health Ministry failed in managing the exit from the lockdown, which was spasmodic, disorderly and illogical, and went forward without making sure there was a functioning system of testing and epidemiological investigations that would cut the chains of infection. Moreover, the lack of economic support for many people who lost their main income source encourages flouting of the health guidelines, to which the state has responded with increased policing, fines and surveillance. On Monday the coronavirus cabinet approved several partial, incoherent restrictions.

Israel is the only developed country that managed to control the pandemic but is now experiencing a renewed, broad outbreak. That’s why the European Union is barring Israelis from entering member states and why Israel is on a “red list” along with the United States, Russia, Saudi Arabia and Turkey. Israel simply doesn’t meet the criteria for a safe country.

On Sunday, in an effort to cut the chains of infection, Netanyahu ordered coronavirus test results to be delivered within 12 hours, with contact tracing completed and isolation orders issued within 48 hours after that. But without a significant boost in personnel, the state won’t be able to meet this goal, either. It would behoove this government to remember that it was formed primarily to battle the coronavirus. Netanyahu, however, has preferred to devote most of his effort to his personal concerns: his legal battles, political threats, annexation fantasies and seeing to his own bank account at taxpayers’ expense. Instead of creating a single agency to deal with the coronavirus, Netanyahu is taking hysterical and confused steps to try to halt the economic and health avalanches. That’s no way to run a country during a crisis.

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

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