Michael Boyden

Anarchy at Israel’s Door

It doesn’t take much for people to despair. Indeed, COVID-19 is a challenge for all of us. We have had our lives disrupted to one degree or another. Many businesses have closed, some people have seen their life’s work destroyed, actors and musicians are out of work and hundreds of thousands of people are unemployed.

We are nowhere near the end of these trying times, and it will take courage and fortitude to continue as best we can until we get the better of this virus.

Our condition bears some similarity to that of the home front in time of war. Israelis are good at sticking together when they feel endangered. Londoners carried on living their lives during the Blitz doing the best they could in spite of the bombings. In September 1940 some 150,000 people slept in the Underground not knowing what they would discover in the morning.

However, they had a political leadership that they could respect, and when Churchill told them that “We shall fight on the beaches, we shall fight on the landing grounds, we shall fight in the fields and in the streets, we shall fight in the hills; we shall never surrender” people knew that they had a prime minister whom they could trust.

However, Israel’s leaders seem more concerned about their personal welfare and pursuing their narrow political interests than about caring for the needs of their people. While many Israelis have seen their incomes fall, our bloated government continues to pay Knesset members their full salaries unlike the ministers and MP’s in New Zealand who voted on self-imposed cuts.

It all began to turn sour during Pesach. None of us will forget how we celebrated Seder night alone for the first time in our lives without our children and grandchildren. And then it turned out that our president had broken the rules and invited his daughter to be with him. After that it was reported that our prime minister had also celebrated with his son Avner despite a strict curfew that had been imposed to prevent people hosting family gatherings and spreading the coronavirus.

But that was only the beginning. While stores all over Israel were kept closed and their owners were suffering as a consequence, the then health minister, Yaakov Litzman, allowed Ikea to open its doors and do business. It then transpired that the Gerer chassidim with whom Litzman is affiliated had received $1.1 million in donations in recent years from Ikea Israel’s owners.

Meantime our prime minister, who should have been devoting his energies to dealing with the virus and looking after the needs of those who had suffered financially as a consequence of the lockdown, seemed more concerned about the Knesset’s Finance Committee approving his request for a tax refund for nine years of expenses at his private home in Caesarea.

As if that wasn’t enough, at a time when Israelis are bracing themselves for a potential second shutdown, it was announced that prime minister Netanyahu would be flying to Washington this week with his wife and two sons on a private jet at an estimated cost to the tax payer of over half a million shekels. (Following a public out-cry the decision was reversed and he will now be travelling with the rest of the delegation.)

No one wants to be a sucker. Hebrew has a special word for such a person. He is called a freier. Increasingly people are feeling that there are two sets of rules: one for the rich, the religious parties and the well-connected and another for the rest of us.

Talk of the possibility of another lockdown has worried and incensed many. People don’t trust the government, and so restaurant owners, shopkeepers, banqueting suite operators and others are demanding that they receive compensation before they will agree to close their doors.

Meantime we shall be imprisoned in our homes while Bibi flies off to Washington with his family.

People are already saying that they will not observe the restrictions of the lockdown should there be another one. As the seasoned journalist Yaron Deckel put it yesterday, that sounds awfully like anarchy.

About the Author
Made aliyah from the UK in 1985, am a former president of the Israel Council of Reform Rabbis and am currently rabbi of Kehilat Yonatan in Hod Hasharon, Israel.
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