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Joshua Koonin
Joshua Koonin
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Why the Bennett vacation story matters

The conduct of the Bennett family suggests that politics rather than a truly perceived grave threat of the Omicron variant drove the PM to curtail air travel
Prime Minister Naftali Bennett, his wife Gilat and their four children at the Knesset on June 13, 2021. (Naftali Bennett/Instagram)
Prime Minister Naftali Bennett, his wife Gilat and their four children at the Knesset on June 13, 2021. (Naftali Bennett/Instagram)

The Bennett family’s overseas vacation has led Israeli newscasts for close to 24 hours. “A betrayal,” the PM’s detractors scream on their social media pages, while supporters call it a storm in a teacup, remind us that Israelis are allowed to leave, and recall that the Netanyahus spent weeks in the States during a major Covid spike. Political analysts have concentrated on the optics of the PM’s wife and kids hopping on a plane, a lack of Dugmah Ishit – personal example – they claim. It’s actually about far more.

Last Friday, at a hastily convened press conference, the Prime Minister encouraged Israelis to avoid overseas travel in the face of a grave viral threat. The PM now looks not to have truly believed the threat that severe (after all, if the threat is/was that severe, surely Bennett would have shared information to convince his family to cancel their own overseas holiday). We are left to surmise why Bennett made his recommendation with such fanfare – a desire to look strong perhaps? A desire to act more decisively than Netanyahu?

Whatever the case, thousands of Israeli families heeded Bennett’s call and canceled their long-awaited Hannukah trips. Anecdotally many lost significant amounts in cancellation charges. Unlike the Bennetts, they are not multi-millionaires and are rightfully angry that the PM now appears to have ruined their plans and cost them a packet for bad faith political gamesmanship.

Worse, however, is the plight of thousands of Olim and Israelis with ties to the diaspora, denied the right to have loved ones at their side at key moments, happy and sad. In recent days, stories have arisen of grandparents unable to support their daughter at the funeral of her son, of parents missing weddings, births and bar mitzvot, and of the seriously ill being denied familial assistance in their darkest hour. Put simply, this should not happen except perhaps in the face of the most extreme of threats. The conduct of the Bennett family suggests that Bennett does not perceive Omicron this way.

Finally, there is the incoming tourism industry, which supports hundreds of thousands of Israelis. After nearly two years without work and nightly worries of how to put bread on the table, the families are again thrown into uncertainty and fear. their plight can be contrasted with Bennett’s personal wealth. While one cannot hold wealth against the PM, it does raise the question of whether he truly understands the stress these people face, especially as a compensation package is yet to be offered.

The conduct of Naftali Bennett and those around him suggests that politics rather than a truly perceived grave threat drove his policies towards Israel’s skies. It’s disappointing because so many have been hurt.

About the Author
Joshua Koonin is a political analyst and former political advisor as well as a licensed Israeli tour guide. Having grown up in Australia, he now runs an Israeli based company called International Political Seminars which arranges political based study tours in Israel, the United States, South Africa, Europe, and Australia. His clients include government ministers, parliamentarians, diplomats, journalists, students, lay leaders and political junkees.
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