The Tragic Scandal that is Israeli Politics

Israel is still struggling with the Corona virus, and even as more than a million Israelis already have received both doses of the Pfizer vaccine, the number of new patients does not decrease significantly, standing at more than 5,000 daily and the number of deaths hovers around 50 death per day.  The hospitals are overburdened and in the news on TV we get to see scenes at the biggest hospitals of large numbers of ambulances waiting in line to drop of their patients, with the emergency rooms not having the capacity to accept them and the corona wards not having room to take them in.

Israel has been under lock-down for more than three weeks but the sometimes blatant violations by the Israeli public, in the Haredi neighborhoods, but not only, have not lead to the desired results and, while schools are closed, commerce is limited to essential services only and people are not allowed to be more than a kilometer from their house unless they have a valid reason, the Corona virus keeps spreading. Contradictory explanations by “experts” (are there experts on Corona already?) range from blaming the public to blaming the “British Variant” but even on possible solutions and the benefits of each, the opinions are greatly divided. And, in Israel, that is where politics comes in.

The Health Ministry has been pressing for an extension of the lock-down, and while they are talking about another week, they effectively mean another 2-3 weeks until the pressure on the hospitals will be reduced somewhat. Of course the chaos in the hospitals is only the result of years and years of neglect and the Health Ministry and the Minister himself (Yuli Edelstein, who is a blemish on Israeli democracy) are extremely anxious not to expose this neglect even more than it already has been. But the ministry in any case believes that by advising on an extension of the lock-down, they have done their part and to a large extend they are correct.

It appears that Prime Minister Netanyahu, somehow has come to the conclusion that the continued pandemic is likely to affect his election plans, and thus he has put all his weight behind the Health Ministry demand for an extension, in the hope that in another eight weeks, when elections will take place, the situation will be better under control and people will have forgotten the lock-down and its hardships. In addition, of course, if he could get the lockdown to continue beyond February 8, that would cause the Criminal court where his corruption trial is to continue on that date, to postpone it (again).

On the other side of this shameful spectacle, stands Benny Gantz and the remains of his Blue and White party, who is still a member of the government and has veto power over a number of issues. While Gantz has had the opportunity a hundred times to stand up to Netanyahu and  his self-centered politics, apparently now, as a show of willpower in his final moments as a politician, he has consistently refused to allow a cabinet meeting to take place, which is necessary to approve the extension of the lock-down. So, with the Lockdown supposed to end by Sunday evening, there still has been no decision on its extension, not if it will be extended, and if yes for how long. Why is Gantz now playing political hard-to-get? He claims that the extension of the lock-down makes sense only if there is going to be a real lock-down and he points to the violations and the relatively lenient approach by the Police as making the lock-down completely useless. In his eyes, one of the main tools the Police should be given, is a stricter and harsher fine regulation, whereby both individuals and in particular institutions and places of business would receive significantly higher fines for operating against the corona rules. Sounds logical, no?  

With the past 3-4 weeks in mind, it is clear that in particular the Religious institutions of learning, the Yeshivas and the Kollels will be most affected by these increased fines because they have also been the main violators and still are. And thus he Orthodox parties in the Knesset, who are also faithful coalition partners of Netanyahu, are opposed to the increased fines and Netanyahu really doesn’t need the alienation of these parties at this crucial point before the elections. He knows, just as every Israeli does, that these parties only understand money and will only give their support to the highest bidder and the increased fines will not be accepted easily. That is enough for Netanyahu to oppose the increase of the fines, and he will come up with an, in his eyes, plausible reason not to agree. Never mind that more and more voices are raised, in the whole political spectrum, to not only increase the fines, but also stop the funding of every institution that violates the rules. (The religious education system, which works completely outside of the Israeli Education ministry, is heavily funded by the State).

It doesn’t really matter who is right here: Gantz who (supposedly) wants a real lock-down or none at all, and the Police to have the instruments to enforce such a lock-down; or Netanyahu, who (supposedly) does not want the Ultra-Orthodox community to be allegedly singled out and blamed for the continued health crisis. In the end, the political stand-off will end in a forced compromise, that will not serve either side, except maybe for both “leaders” to save face. Politics will again decide how to handle to health crisis (or, again, not decide, which is even worse) and Israelis will lose even more confidence in their leadership. (Unless you are a Netanyahu supporter of course).

No matter what Israeli Politics will do, in the end the world will find a solution for the Corona crisis. The health of the Israeli political system should worry us Israelis much more, in particular since nobody seems to be willing or able to develop an effective vaccine for it.

I hope you found this article interesting and I welcome any comments you may have.

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