Netanyahu and Corona – A Tale of Incompetence

It is nearly a year since the world woke up to a pandemic that has so far led to the death of over two million people, and the end is nowhere in sight.

Whereas Benjamin Netanyahu prides himself in the fact that Israel leads the world in terms of the agility with which it has inoculated a significant proportion of the population, our government has failed on every other count.

By this stage in affairs, a public company would have already castigated its directors for gross incompetence and professional negligence, and would have replaced them with people of greater competence.

The way that Israel is responding to COVID-19 bears a strikingly resemblance to the behaviour of the wise men of Chelm. How else explain the fact that the government – albeit a year too late – finally closed Ben Gurion airport to flights from overseas while leaving the land border with Jordan open?

Now they have announced that they are going to close it, but why did it have to take the media to inform us that people were using the loophole to fly overseas before the government acted? Too little and too late. As one leading doctor put it, the stable doors are being shut after the horses have bolted.

However, it was crooked from the beginning. When New York was the epicentre of the endemic in the United States, health minister Yaakov Litzman was busy flying in planeloads of yeshivah students, some of whom were bringing the virus with them.

Thousands of Israelis were allowed to fly to Dubai following the signing of the Abraham Accords even though the U.S. Center for Disease Controls had placed the United Arab Emirates at its highest risk level. Inevitably, some of those holiday makers became infected and returned ill.

When Israel’s schools were already closed, the charedim continued to operate their yeshivot in complete disregard of the health ministry’s pleas to close them. Even now when over 4,500 Israelis have died from the coronavirus, the government is reluctant to treat them with a heavy hand, in spite of the fact that the charedim comprise a disproportionately high percentage of those who are seriously sick.

Any responsible government would have immediately closed any business, institution, synagogue or yeshivah that was in defiance of the lockdown restrictions and also shut off its funding. Now that would have produced results!

Perhaps the day will come when there will be a public inquiry into the manner in which Netanyahu’s government handled the COVID-19 pandemic. It is likely to come to the conclusion that incompetence, short-sightedness and coalition interests resulted in many more Israelis dying than need have been the case.

Even were the end in sight – and that in itself is far from clear – Israel will have suffered more than twice the number of casualties during this pandemic than in the Yom Kippur War, which is looked back in pain as having been the bloodiest in Israel’s history.

About the Author
Rabbi Boyden was educated and received his rabbinical ordination in London, England. Having served as the rabbi of Cheshire Reform Congregation for thirteen years, he made aliyah with his family in 1985. He has established Reform congregations in Ra'anana and Hod Hasharon and previously served as director of the Israel Reform Movement's Beit Din.
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