Open Letter to the Government of Israel –
Dear Prime Minister Netanyahu, Minister of Defense Gantz, and current MKs of the 35th Knesset:
We are living in unprecedented times and this poses a once in a lifetime opportunity to help all of Israel’s citizens today and go down in history as one of the greatest governments of all time.
In early 2020, when the COVID-19 outbreak began in Israel, our government acted responsibly and we were one of the leading countries in the fight against the Coronavirus. Since we have lifted restrictions, the situation has only deteriorated. Personally, I am very appreciative of the responsible and weighted measures you took in the beginning. With that said, I am now disappointed, troubled, and scared for where we are today. I’m, of course, not the only concerned citizen to raise the alarm. Nathan Jeffay wrote a great article in the Times of Israel titled, “Where we went wrong: Expert says these 3 blunders caused new Israeli COVID chaos.” (Click here) to read.
Speaking frankly, the Coronavirus leaves Israel in a deplorable predicament. As of July 6th, the number of confirmed coronavirus surpassed 30,000 leaving over 40,000 people in quarantine, more than 300 receiving hospital treatment, and beyond 300 people dead. (Click here and here for the articles.) As indicative of its reaction at the beginning of the crisis, our government currently attempts to stem the spread of the virus through serious measures by shuttering gyms, bars, event halls, pools, and nightclubs (Click here). Once again, the government limits the number of attendees at synagogues, yeshivot, and weddings. I credit the government with these actions; however, I advocate that much more needs to occur immediately lest our country devolves into another medical state of turmoil and disaster.
Let us learn from our mistakes, what we did well, and how other countries acted responsibly so we can successfully combat COVID-19 at home, take care of our citizens financially, and maintain a semblance of normalcy.
I assert that the government of Israel can rise to the occasion to help citizens through four tangible and realistic additions to current actions:
- The Government Must Lead by Example
Given the medical and economic impact of COVID-19, the Israeli government should show solidarity with all citizens of Israel immediately. The current government composition contains one of the highest number of ministers in Israeli history; granted which made sense for coalition negotiations. However, given the current situation I suggest passing a law that reduces all MKs salaries by at least 20%. This would put Israel on par with how the government of New Zealand, for example, showed “solidarity with those affected by the coronavirus outbreak.” (Click here). Additionally, reducing the number of total ministries would constitute a significant, if primarily symbolic, step forward. Since Knesset Members, except for the Prime Minister, earn NIS 50,623 per month (which includes a 2.8% salary increase from January), the actual financial impact is understandably minimal (Click here). The main point is that taking this budget and allocating it toward supporting the people would show that the government unequivocally cares for all citizens, especially those who suffer the most.
- The Government Must Support the Average Citizen
Due to the COVID-19 crisis, almost 25% of Israelis are unemployed. (Click here). To help all citizens during this time, I suggest a delay for bills such as water, gas, electricity and Arnona for a significant number of months. Alternatively, canceling those bills entirely would be ideal, even if just for a few months. With that said, I understand the impracticality of that in the long-term.
On a similar note, many Israelis have mortgages and loans that are still being paid off. To assist them during these difficult times, I propose further lowering interest rates and delaying payments for a reasonable amount of time. That way, people can support themselves and their basic needs today. Then, when the situation improves, they will have the ability to pay off their mortgages and/or loans.
Both of these policies would be in alignment with many European countries and, to a certain extent, with the USA as well, (Click here).
- The Government Must Support Businesses and Self-Employed Israelis
This group appears to be one of the most hard-hit and also one of the least assisted in Israel. For example, as of the writing of this article, self-employed Israelis were promised financial assistance, most of which has not yet been delivered. Additionally, the assistance is often considered “very conservative compared to those of other countries….And implementation is experiencing hiccups…” (Click here). It would be of great benefit to transfer the money already promised to these businesses and self-employed Israelis as well as to assist them further financially so they and their families can survive these difficult and unprecedented times. With that said, the 80 billion NIS economic plan recently revealed by PM Netanyahu and MK Katz is a positive step in that direction (Click here). However, even after meeting with PM Netanyahu, self-employed Israelis still decided to protest (Click here). I sincerely hope our government will live up to their promises and help this segment of society.
- The Government Must Provide Collective Support and Unity
Prime Minister Netanyahu at the beginning of the crisis gave almost weekly updates to keep us informed and even now occasionally provides updates about the dire situation. Drawing on the historic influence from FDR’s fireside chats, it would be inspiring for the sake of support, transparency, and national unity if the Prime Minister would speak publicly to the nation every week to update all of us on the state of affairs and government actions taken to improve the situation.This would instill a sense of confidence that our government is doing everything possible to keep its citizens safe and secure.
While some of these actions may be tough economic decisions currently, as experienced in other countries, they will help prevent near irreversible damage to the economy and people’s livelihoods today. Additionally, some of these actions require our politicians to put their country first and take decisive actions that aren’t necessarily in their own self-interest. With that said, these are necessary measures to safeguard people today, inspire the nation, and prepare for the recovery phase Post COVID-19. This will also help to ensure our hospitals do not overflow with patients so that those in serious condition can receive the treatments they desperately need.
This is the time to act, this is the time to make history, this is the time to help all citizens of Israel. Prime Minister Netanyahu and Minister of Defense Gantz, please seize this opportunity to enact bold and necessary measures to help our country get through this crisis that we all love so dearly.