Avi Shamir

No Unity, No Emergency

Unity in times of emergency. Calming words. Words that speak to the anxious masses. Words that make sense, offer reassurance, build trust. Words discredited by deceit.

The first time Bibi Netanyahu gave voice to those captivating words was shortly after the last elections, just as the coronavirus was breaking out in Israel. In his plea to Benny Gantz to join forces with him in an emergency unity government, Bibi said more than once: let’s work together and leave politics aside.

I was one of many who doubted his sincerity, even when it seemed that he was managing the crisis as best as he could under the most unparalleled circumstances. Every day I thanked God that Bibi, unlike his dimwitted friend Donald Trump, at least had the sense to listen to the health experts and take the necessary precautions to preclude a collapse of the health system. But even when it seemed that, relatively speaking, Israel was winning its battle against the pandemic, I didn’t believe for one minute that Bibi would ever leave politics aside. Nor did I buy into the “emergency unity” rhetoric, or think that Bibi, with his long track record of scorning the Left, the media, the Israeli Arabs, and just about everyone who doesn’t chant the “only Bibi” mantra, was the right man to unify the country.

Then Benny Gantz, against the will of his Blue and White partners Yair Lapid and Bogi Ayalon, shocked his voters by accepting Bibi’s call for what amounts to a partnership of convenience, a scheme to hold on to power under the fig leaf of the coronavirus. Facing the nation, Gantz sang praises for setting differences aside and working together. I didn’t believe him either. After he had repeatedly vowed not to sit in a government with a prime minister under indictment, after all the talk about legislation that would limit a PM to two terms and prohibit him from serving while under indictment, his joining hands with Bibi smacks of foul betrayal.

Unlike Gantz’s treachery, Bibi’s deceit shocks no one. The same criminal suspect who orders his Justice Minister to close down the courts at 1 AM just three days before his court date, the same Machiavellian character who drags out “unity” negotiations in a barefaced attempt to engineer the appointment of judges before his own trial, doesn’t surprise anyone. Not his supporters, certainly not his opponents.

Be that as it may, there are still many Israelis who believe that unity is our best option. In theory, they are right. The problem is the unifiers. Now that the first Israeli government in over a year is ready to roll, kind of, it seems the very last thing that Bibi and Gantz have in mind is “unity,” let alone a state of “emergency.” If they did, they would at least try to bring everyone together by sending out some kind of message about the two major issues, health and the economy.

One would expect them to call for massive investment in our underfunded health system. I don’t see that happening anytime soon. It didn’t happen in more than a decade under Bibi. It wasn’t even raised as a campaign issue in Gantz’s last bid for election. And now, not a word about meeting the goal to conduct 30,000 daily tests for the coronavirus – whatever we’ve heard until now is just media noise. No talk about the need for more doctors, nurses, technicians, orderlies. The only mention of health so far was the need to keep our inept Health Minister Yaacov Litzman in his cushy seat, to avoid offending the haredi community. Then Litzman surprised everyone with the news that he is willing to step down, apparently because the Gerrer Rebbe, Yaacov Alter, decided that Litzman already caused enough damage in that ministry. Sadly, that is the only health development in the born in sin Bibi-Gantz “emergency” government, courtesy of the Gerrer Rebbe.

Apart from media reporting, the lack of government concern about the tragedy in our nursing homes is most disturbing. Bibi-Gantz and their assemblage of strange bedfellow politicians don’t have much to say about that. They aren’t talking about the need for hiring more nursing home personnel. Not a word about sending social workers to look in on old holocaust survivors, many living in poverty conditions, some dying alone. And not a peep about the junkies and homeless who are aggravating the corona health hazard on the streets of South Tel-Aviv. Indeed, the only talk we’ve heard from Gantz-Bibi about homelessness was resolved by the deal for a costly state-budgeted residence that would be provided to the “acting prime minister” under the rotation agreement, this at a time when over a million Israelis are unemployed as a consequence of the pandemic.

There is no denying the alarming state of the Israeli economy. The money that was never spent on the health system doesn’t match the losses during lockdown of one billion shekels a day, sustained mostly by hard working employees and small business owners who for the past month have earned zero shekels a day. There are no savings to show for a government spending non-policy that left our hospitals unprepared to handle a major health disaster, which is now knocking the wind out of Israeli markets, restaurants, retail stores, the tourist industry, entertainment business, and the list goes on. What is Bibi’s plan to save the economy? Does Gantz even have a plan? Out of 41,000 requests for financial relief made by small business owners, only 3.000 have been considered and less than 2,000 have been approved. With unemployment reaching 25% before Passover and still on the rise, the only statistic available for saving jobs, or creating new jobs, is an affront to victims of the economic crisis: Thirty-six ministers and God knows how many deputy ministers in the Gantza mishpoocha unity government.

There is a silver lining to all this. While Israelis may not be especially smart when it comes to electing leaders, Israel has exceptional human resources. We have some good people to thank for managing and containing the corona crisis. The doctors and nurses who have been working around the clock to save lives, and more recently the businessmen and economists who are lobbying for a viable plan to restart the economy. And let’s not forget all the med-tech researchers who are coming up with treatments for corona patients and advancing development of a coronavirus vaccine. The professionals are getting us out of this, not the politicians. More and more Israelis should conclude that government ministries, Health, Education, and all the rest, have to become more professional. No more Litzmans. That would be the best thing that can come out of the corona crisis.

About the Author
Avi Shamir is a freelance writer, editor, translator and the author of "Saving the Game," a novel about baseball. A Brooklyn College graduate with a BA in English, Avi has contributed to the Jerusalem Post, The Nation, Israel Scene, In English and The World Zionist Press Service.