Editorial

Politics in the Shadow of Corona

Netanyahu gives a statement together with Health Minister Yaakov Litzman, at the Health Ministry in Jerusalem March 4, 2020. 
AMMAR AWAD/ REUTERS

Under the shadow of the spread of the coronavirus and political uncertainty, the Knesset is to be sworn in on Monday. Meanwhile, Kahol Lavan and Likud are discussing the possibility, proposed by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, of establishing a broad national emergency government. Nevertheless, Kahol Lavan still hopes to obtain the support of 61 MKs to recommend to the president on Sunday that Kahol Lavan chairman MK Benny Gantz form the new government. And on Friday, Kahol Lavan asked Knesset Speaker MK Yuli Edelstein to hold a vote on Monday to elect a new speaker from their party.

The decision by Kahol Lavan’s leaders to adhere to their initiative to replace Edelstein of Likud with Meir Cohen of Kahol Lavan, despite talks with Likud, is an important one. The criticism voiced by Likud officials that Kahol Lavan is dealing in “petty politics,” while Netanyahu is trying to save Israel and the rest of the world, is in itself petty politics.

The world is indeed in the throes of an emergency, and Israel needs a functioning government that can pass a budget and focus its efforts on dealing with the global pandemic. But it is obvious that any germane decision Netanyahu makes to deal with the coronavirus crisis will be supported by the other parties, including Kahol Lavan. Gantz also wrote Saturday that “the challenge presented by the spread of the coronavirus requires Israel to prepare itself responsibly in the near future for [the sake of] the welfare of the public and to save lives.”

Netanyahu mocks his opponents by presenting them in a ridiculous light – by alleging that they are dealing with local legal “trifles” while millions of people around the world are in danger. This, as usual, is a manipulative description. Clearly, in order to deal properly with the coronavirus, the government must function, but Netanyahu must not evade justice in the face of an unprecedented situation and public panic. And he must not ignore the fact that according to the outcome of the election, he cannot establish a new government.

Bitter experience shows that Netanyahu’s proposal to Kahol Lavan to cooperate in an emergency government will be no more than a humiliating surrender by those who sought to replace him in government and were elected for this purpose. Therefore, it was Gantz who showed responsibility and vision when he made clear to Netanyahu that an emergency government must include all parties in the Knesset. If the coronavirus does not differentiate between Jews and Arabs, between right and left, then a broad emergency government must consist of Jews and Arabs, right wing and left. Meanwhile Kahol Lavan should persist in its efforts to establish a government that will be an alternative to Netanyahu.

As a first step, Kahol Lavan must continue the move to replace the Knesset speaker, as planned. At the same time, and as long as Netanyahu is in power and the epidemic continues to spread, Gantz must continue, as he promised of his own initiative, “to assist in any action to the benefit of the public on this matter.”

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