At 2 P.M. Friday, the eve of Rosh Hashanah, the State of Israel will enter a second coronavirus lockdown. With 5,000 new infections per day and more than 500 severely ill patients, the second lockdown is the direct result of the failed policies of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who is too busy to devote himself to “life itself” of the country’s citizens.
Throughout the crisis, Netanyahu and his government made decisions and then relented, causing and sending a message of chaos. Only Wednesday, the cabinet reversed a decision it had approved two days earlier, deciding in a vote by telephone to close the country’s schools one day before the start of the lockdown. When the attempt to introduce localized restrictions based on each community’s infection rates failed, the cabinet instead announced a nationwide lockdown. This lockdown is devoid of all internal logic, there is no exit strategy and the cabinet members themselves have no faith in its necessity or its likely efficacy.
Despite the understandable anxiety of Health Ministry officials about the high rate of infection, there is cause to doubt that a lockdown will greatly reduce this. Only Wednesday, Deputy Health Minister Yoav Kish said “You can’t expect a significant decrease in infection rates.” What can be expected, however, is for the economy to crash and for another half a million people to lose their jobs. And that’s on top of a rise in the incidence of depression, anxiety and even of suicide attempts.
The uncertainty regarding the effectiveness of the lockdown calls into doubt the degree to which Israelis will comply with it and raises the question of how far the state will go in enforcing it in the event of noncompliance. Draconian regulations, especially illogical ones (ritual bathing in a mikveh is permitted, but swimming in the sea is not; demonstrations are permitted, but not picking up your own takeaway order from a restaurant), require complete trust in the government imposing them. The government, however, has done everything possible to destroy the public’s trust in it.
Public trust is also related to the bad example set by the leaders. The mayors of “red” towns are photographed at public events without face masks, while others fly to Uman over the objections of the coronavirus czar. On Tuesday evening, Israelis watched as the prime minister and the Israeli delegation to Washington violated social-distancing guidelines. In addition, members of the delegation will only have to self-isolate for five days after their return, instead of the usual 14.
Israel is about to enter an ineffective lockdown that is liable to wreak great harm, without guaranteeing a decline in infection rates that could justify such an extreme measure. It’s one more failure in the ever-lengthening list of Netanyahu’s failures.
The above article is Haaretz’s lead editorial, as published in the Hebrew and English newspapers in Israel.