How Can Israelis Trust Their Government to Lead Them Out of the Coronavirus Crisis?

Haaretz Editorial
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From left: Cabinet Secretary Tzahi Braverman, Nat'l Economic Council chairman Avi Simhon, Defense Minister Benny Gantz and PM Benjamin Netanyahu, Jerusalem, June 28, 2020.
From left: Cabinet Secretary Tzahi Braverman, Nat'l Economic Council chairman Avi Simhon, Defense Minister Benny Gantz and PM Benjamin Netanyahu, Jerusalem, June 28, 2020. Credit: Olivier Fitoussi/Flash 90

The outbreak of the second wave of the coronavirus in Israel has made the reopening strategy led by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu into a model of failure for the world. The failure here has turned Israel into an example to countries around the globe of what not to do. In his effort to find a scapegoat, Netanyahu, who tends to concentrate decision-making in his own hands, delegated authority to his new minister of health, Yuli Edelstein, who in turn announced in a press conference Monday that he plans to hire a special project manager to handle the crisis.

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It is not yet known who that coronavirus czar will be, but the decision is a step in the right direction. After months of disarray, of putting out fires and of improvising, the crisis needs to be managed in a centralized, organized fashion, coordinated with all of the government ministries and balancing public-health and economic considerations.

But that is not enough. The nature of the crisis demands the public’s cooperation, of a kind based on trust rather than threats. Netanayhu’s government has been evading responsibility for the failure, blaming the public for the renewed spread of COVID-19 and the Knesset for hampering the work. That’s not how trust is built. That’s how it is destroyed.

How can the public trust the government when the prime minister complains about the bureaucratic, cumbersome nature of the legislative process, bypasses the Knesset, violates individual rights and plans to push through, within a few days, a new coronavirus emergency bill that will give the cabinet unlimited power?

Instead of increasing transparency and guaranteeing the democratic decision-making process, the cabinet is weakening legislative oversight and guaranteeing for itself unlimited power to track citizens, to arrest, restrict, close, shut down and fines. Building trust requires more than just a project manager. The government needs to make a 180-degree turn when it comes to its attitude toward the public, the Knesset and the Knesset committees.

In addition, however talented Edelstein’s project manager turns out to be, they won’t be able to reconnect voters with their elected representatives, who have completely lost touch with them. A million people out of work, bankrupt business owners and employees in collapsing industries look on in disbelief at the most bloated and satiated cabinet in the country’s history. Not a day goes by that doesn’t show the disconnect between the cabinet and the people, between the resolutions that it passes and the shameful declarations of its members.

The cabinet must coordinate the restrictions it imposes on the public with the assistance it gives to those who have been adversely affected by them. The cabinet cannot push Israelis to the wall and force them to choose between complying with its restrictions and being able to earn a living. That requires more than a project manager. It requires getting in touch with reality.

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