Kenneth Ryesky

Israel’s Coronavirus Response Is Infected by Politics

It is clear that Israel needs to step up its efforts to battle the COVID-19 plague now upon us. If indeed the proposition that public masking can help control the infection rate by significantly reducing the sheer number of aerosol virus particles collectively exhaled into the atmosphere is valid  — and I personally believe that it is — then the Israeli public’s deficient compliance now impedes the countermeasures the government now strives to implement.

That much of the public does not attach a high priority towards compliance is obvious from a brief excursion walk.  Immediately obvious are the individuals who are not properly covering both mouth and nose with their masks, thereby making the masks all but useless in reducing the coronavirus particles exhaled into the environment (and worse yet, those who wear no mask at all).  The sheer numbers of those whose noncompliance is patently obvious cannot be explained by bona fide valid exceptions such as a medical condition for which a mask is contraindicated, or by active engagement in athletic activities or physical workouts.

The events of the past few weeks in America and elsewhere have paradoxically demonstrated two realities.  Firstly, police officers need to be regulated and held to strict standards in the performance of their official duties, and secondly, police officers need to be entrusted to make split-second decisions, and the freedom to carry out those decisions on short notice.  Failure to properly do the first results in deadly tyranny by a rogue gendarmerie, and failure to properly provide for the second results in deadly tyranny by rogue mobs.  As with everywhere else in the world, Israel needs to strike a delicate balance between the two.

On one of my internet social media groups, a participant claimed to have been ticketed by a police officer for removing his mask to blow his nose, and I have heard an account in which it is claimed that a police officer threatened to ticket a woman who removed her mask in order to drink water at a playground drinking fountain.  While I certainly cannot evaluate the validity of those claims without hearing the respective police officers’ versions of the alleged events, the fact that such allegations command even the possibility of public credence is troubling.   People should not be compelled to neglect their personal hygiene exigencies or hydration needs for fear of being cited by ticket-happy police officers.

[I myself am willing to allow for the possibility that such alleged excesses on the part of the Israel Police have indeed occurred.  My apartment is around the corner from Attorney General Mandelblit’s residence.  After years of loud and visible protests of all political stripes against the Attorney General, the police officers have only recently stopped preventing me and my neighbors from driving on the blocked streets so that we can access our own homes (never mind that my wife had ambulation issues warranting her use of a walker).].

One would think that the Israeli public has benefitted from the learning curve in dealing with the WuFlu epidemic.  But unfortunately, other factors are at play, and not only the aforementioned cynical attitudes towards the police.  Perhaps the most obvious is the ever-changing regulations and pronunciamentos from the government.  The Health Ministry is gunning at a moving target from a moving platform.  It seems that one week we are improving and the government is looking to relax the restrictions, and then the next week the government threatens to tighten up.  The lack of a consistent message is a public relations failure, and cannot facilitate compliance.

But perhaps the most complicating factor of all is the political environment in which all the COVID-19 events occur.  No less toxic than the virus itself have been the flouting of the social distancing regulations by high government officials (including the prime minister himself), and the failure of the political party leaders to form a government as they put their own political postures ahead of the needs of the people of Israel.

The political shenanigans of the past year have come at a high cost.  And the figure on the price tag is being paid by the Israeli public, even as the politicians continue to posture themselves and their agendas.

About the Author
Born in Philadelphia, Kenneth lived on Long Island and made Aliyah to Israel. Professionally, he worked as a lawyer in the USA (including as an attorney for the Internal Revenue Service), a college professor and an analyst for the U.S. Department of Defense. He's also a writer and a traveler.
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