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Politics and Protest amidst Israel’s Coronavirus second wave

Jul 24, 2020 | AIJAC staff

A protester faces police during a demonstration against Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in Jerusalem, July 18, 2020 (AP Photo/Oded Balilty)
A protester faces police during a demonstration against Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in Jerusalem, July 18, 2020 (AP Photo/Oded Balilty)

Update from AIJAC

 

07/20 #03

Israel’s second wave of coronavirus infections has continued to worsen (Israel had 2000 new cases on Wednesday), amid growing criticism in Israel of the Government’s handling of the pandemic over recent weeks, plus a wave of demonstrations which have grown from a long-standing series of anti-Netanyahu protests to also include many other groups affected by the coronavirus-related restrictions, and their severe economic consequences.

However, after several weeks delay, a convoluted process, and much political wrangling, Israel has just appointed a coronavirus “czar” to take charge of coordinating the Government’s efforts –  Prof. Roni Gamzu, the current CEO of the Ichilov Medical Center in Tel Aviv and former director-general of the Health Ministry. However, even than appointment is a last-minute change after the previously preferred appointee, Prof. Gabriel Barbash, rejected the post as a result of a dispute over what powers he would be given.

This Update aims to provide reporting, background and analysis on what is happening and why.

We lead with David Horovitz, editor of the Times of Israel, who discusses the coronavirus missteps and sudden reversals that Israel’s complex and unwieldy national unity government has made that have led to the erosion of public confidence in it of late. For instance, he discusses a long series of last-minute, rapidly changing rules for restaurants over the past week. He also looks at the development of the protests and offers some suggestions on what needs to be done for the Government to regain public trust. For all the details,  CLICK HERE.

Next up is Herb Keinon of the Jerusalem Post looking more specifically at the various protests and what they may mean. He reviews past protest movements in Israel’s history to provide some context. Combining interviews with experts and eyewitness reporting of some of the protests, he provides a very good overview of what is really happening. To read it,  CLICK HERE.

This Update’s final article is a strongly worded opinion piece on the current situation from veteran Australian Jewish leader Isi Leibler, who now resides in Jerusalem. Leibler is scathing of the unity government’s performance, and especially its disunity, and also points to the government’s inability to effectively deal with international threats, as well as the coronavirus crisis. He even suggests new elections may be preferable to the current situation – a radical idea given that Israel just formed a government in May after three inconclusive elections and a period without an elected government of some 18 months. For Leibler’s views on what has gone wrong and what needs to be done,  CLICK HERE.

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Netanyahu’s government has lost the public’s trust. Here’s how to win it back

 

Ministers must ensure their COVID policies are justified, feasible and fair, and then explain them coherently, or Israelis won’t comply. Neutering Knesset oversight is no solution

By DAVID HOROVITZ

Times of Israel, July 23, 2020

Through his more than 14 years in office, some Israelis grew to love, and others to loathe, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. But few doubted that he knew what he was doing, and that this basic competence was reflected in the activities of the governments he has headed.

That has changed in the last few days, during one of the most challenging domestic periods in modern Israeli history, when the government is charged with battling a pandemic and its fallout, including the unprecedented meltdown of much of the economy.

It’s a dangerous shift in any democracy when the electorate loses confidence in its leadership, and most especially in an embattled country such as Israel, where that confidence is a crucial component in national resilience, in the willingness to act at potentially personal cost for the greater good of the nation.

But that is precisely what we are now witnessing.

The new mood of shaken faith is making itself plain in all manner of guises and areas.

One of them, perhaps not hugely significant but highly symbolic, began a week ago, immediately after the prime minister appeared on television on July 15 to announce that he was putting together NIS 6 billion ($1.75 billion) in indiscriminate handouts to all Israelis. The idea made no sense: The goal stated by Netanyahu was to get the money out fast, in order to get the wheels of the economy turning again. But by promising the cash to all, he was subverting that aim, since wealthier Israelis wouldn’t rush to spend the extra money, while poorer Israelis, desperate for government assistance, were being short-changed.

Recognizing that the plan was half-baked, various groups and individuals laudably coalesced to try to mend it – to put in place mechanisms whereby those who didn’t need the money would donate it to those who did, and large numbers of Israelis signed up to do just that. But as of this writing, the “immediate” handouts have gone nowhere.

First, a hurried ministerial rethink prompted the introduction of some limits on who would get the cash, with the biggest wage-earners to be excluded. Then the government hit new snags — reportedly discovering that its computers cannot easily sift out the big earners from the rest, and that it doesn’t have the bank account details of a significant proportion of its citizens. Now, there is talk of further allocations for those most in need.

Three dozen out-of-touch ministers

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, left, chairs an emergency meeting of senior ministers to decide on measures to curb the spread of the coronavirus, July 16, 2020. (Chaim Tzach/GPO)

The discomfiting evidence of a leadership disconnected from those it is supposed to serve mounted the very next day. Meeting from late last Thursday night until the early hours of Friday morning, the prime minister and his colleagues emerged from their video-conferencing to order the nation’s restaurants shut down until further notice, with the exception of deliveries and takeout, as of 5 p.m. on Friday afternoon.

Self-evidently, nobody in the biggest, costliest government in the history of Israel knew enough, or cared enough, to realize that giving the restaurant industry 14 hours to close down was an untenable imposition.

Self-evidently, not a single one of the three dozen ministers recognized that restaurants submit orders to suppliers in advance, that they receive deliveries in advance, prepare food, organize staff, take reservations… that the entire industry and its supply chain, already battered and depleted by the ravages of COVID-19’s first wave, should not and could not simply be switched off at a moment’s notice by ministerial decree.

And so the restaurateurs — whose industry directly employs an estimated 200,000 Israelis, and is central to the livelihoods of an estimated one million — rebelled. When news of the dictate reached them, as their staffs began to prepare for the day’s services ahead, many of them simply said: No, we’re not doing it. Fine us. Arrest us. Do your worst.

An hour before the shutdown was supposed to come into force, when many law-abiding restaurants had dutifully canceled their reservations, sent staff home, and thrown out or given away food, the government changed its mind, and postponed the closure order to Tuesday morning, causing further havoc.

And on Tuesday, hours after it had come into force, the Knesset Coronavirus Committee, run by a member of Netanyahu’s own Likud party, canceled it again, its chairwoman Yifat Shasha-Biton knowingly putting her job on the line when declaring that she and her colleagues had not seen enough evidence of contagion at restaurants to justify the blanket closure.

In the few hours on Tuesday morning when the order was supposedly in force, most restaurants had ignored it anyway.

Taking to the streets

In this new climate of declining faith in the competence of government, and declining readiness to automatically heed its rulings, strikes are multiplying — including by social workers and, briefly, nurses, their demands for extra staff in the battle against COVID-19 long ignored and now belatedly met. And demonstrations are growing, and becoming more raucous, by the day.

For years, a small core of mainly middle-aged and older protesters have been maintaining a vigil near the Prime Minister’s Residence, demanding the resignation first of Netanyahu the corruption suspect, then Netanyahu the indicted leader, and now Netanyahu the prime minister on trial. Nobody paid them too much heed.

Water cannon fire hits demonstrators protesting against Benjamin Netanyahu outside the Prime Minister’s Residence in Jerusalem on July 21, 2020. (Olivier Fitoussi/Flash90)

But in recent weeks, and especially in recent days, an array of bitter Israelis have swelled the ranks and largely eclipsed the veteran protesters — including independent businessmen, small business owners, the restaurant industry, the entertainment industry, left-wingers, avowed Likud voters, et al — suffering from the financial meltdown and complaining that the government isn’t helping them.

Plan after plan has been grandly presented, but grants to Israelis who have faithfully paid their taxes and their National Insurance contributions through the years, and now urgently need some help in return, have either proved miserly or failed to arrive at all.

Most recently, students and other younger Israelis have started to dominate the demonstrations — whether with specific grievances or letting off steam amid the virus limitations that otherwise prevent most gatherings.

Thousands marched through neighborhoods adjacent to the Prime Minister’s Residence on Saturday night. They marched to the Knesset late Tuesday night, where a social work student made headlines posing topless atop a menorah sculpture, a police officer made headlines by subduing one demonstrator with his knee, and more than 30 were arrested. Some were still demonstrating Thursday morning, trying to block the entrances to the parliament building.

Israelis are capable and perceptive. We saw with the arrival of COVID-19 that the government — particularly Netanyahu — recognized the danger of the pandemic, and was keenly focused on thwarting it. Policy wasn’t perfect — the airport wasn’t properly sealed to arrivals from virus epicenters; communication with the ultra-Orthodox community was poor. But, overall, decision-making was effective, and therefore the public did what it was asked to do.

Not so now. The incompetence is plain for all to see. Ministers and coalition members are openly bickering, with a low point earlier this week when the finance minister (Israel Katz) and the coalition chairman (Miki Zohar), both Likud members, began leveling personal insults at each other during a committee meeting. Medical professionals have been resigning from key operational and advisory positions, complaining that they are not being heeded. The indefatigable Netanyahu appears to have been uncharacteristically distracted, both by his apparently stalled plan to begin annexing West Bank territory on July 1 and, understandably, by his trial.

And now he and his Blue and White coalition partners are, deplorably, playing election games again.

Restoring trust

The way back — the way to regain public confidence, and thus to regain public readiness to comply with restrictions — is not merely to impose regulations, but to inform and explain.

The Knesset’s Coronavirus Committee — tasked with overseeing ministerial decisions — overturned the restaurant closures on Tuesday because, Shasha-Biton said, the data it had been supplied by the Health Ministry on the sources of COVID-19 contagion simply didn’t justify the catastrophic economic consequences. A day before, for similar reasons, it had overturned a ministerial decision to close all the beaches each weekend — an order that it said it found incomprehensible and that the government belatedly recognized it could not justify.

In response to the restaurant reversal, Health Minister Yuli Edelstein said the committee was being “childish,” while coalition chair Zohar sniped that Shasha-Biton had “fallen into a trap set by the opposition.” Netanyahu was reported to want to fire her, but legislation rushed through the Knesset on Wednesday went much further than that: The so-called “Great Coronavirus Law” neuters her committee altogether as of August 10, distributes more limited oversight authority among four other committees, and gives the government greater powers to high-handedly impose more of the kind of edicts that have proved so ill-considered and controversial in recent days.

The data made publicly available on the spread of COVID-19 is indeed partial and inadequate, as became clear when the Coronavirus Committee hosted the Health Ministry’s deputy director Itamar Grotto to try to make sense of it all on Sunday. And Shasha-Biton, a most improbable rebel, was patently unhappy to find herself moving to reverse the decisions and orders of her own government. But as she said in defense of her panel’s intervention: “The committee cannot vote on anything that we cannot explain publicly.”

That’s a position the Netanyahu government should urgently espouse. Rather than crush concerned, well-meaning dissent with arrogant derision and rushed legislation, it must make a concerted effort to explain its decisions to the public. And if it doesn’t have the necessary information, it should recognize that this points to deeper problems in the handling of the pandemic — problems that the newly appointed coronavirus coordinator will hopefully address right away. The government needs to be sure that it knows what it’s doing. Right now, the public, understandably, doubts that this is the case.

Israel is currently led by a self-styled emergency coalition, established with the specific imperative to battle COVID-19. But the government cannot rule by fiat — even amid a pandemic. Or rather, least of all amid a pandemic, when public trust, and consequent public willingness to cooperate, are vital to protect the nation’s economy, its health, and its resilience.


Israel experiencing a new kind of civil unrest

By HERB KEINON

JULY 23, 2020 22:53

Protesters gather outside the Prime Minister’s Residence, Jerusalem (photo credit: MARC ISRAEL SELLEM)

Well acquainted with protests, the nation is experiencing a different kind of civil unrest this time, spurred by coronavirus policy, economics and politics

Against the value of free expression in a democratic society, wrote the attorney-general to the deputy head of police investigations, stands the principle of public order, “a value that must be protected in a democratic regime.

“Disturbing the public order, particularly continued disturbances, can lead to anarchy and the undermining of our democratic way of life,” the letter continued.

The author of that letter is not Attorney-General Avichai Mandelblit expressing an opinion on the current season of street protests, but rather one of his predecessors, Michael Ben-Yair, who served in that position from 1993 to 1997.

Ben-Yair’s letter in August 1995 was an order to the police to investigate the leaders of Zo Artzeinu, an organization established in the early 1990s to protest the Oslo Accords, for inciting rebellion and preventing the police from performing their job. Two leaders of the movement – Moshe Feiglin and Shmuel Sackett – were actually convicted of sedition for their part in that movement.

The similarity in news reports about the protests during that period to what is happening today on the streets of Jerusalem and Tel Aviv is striking: the blocking of the roads, the water cannons, the mounted police, the chants of “police state,” the accusations of an exaggerated use of police force, and the police counterclaim that force is required because the protesters violated the terms of their demonstration permits and engaged in an illegal demonstration.

“The protest began in the late afternoon, when dozens of people congregated at France Square around the corner from the Prime Minister’s Residence. They were met by hundreds of police, riot police, and border policemen who filled the square and numerous side streets,” read a Jerusalem Post story from September 14, 1995.

“For the first 10 minutes of the protest, a few people, with their hands tied above their heads, walked into the street and stood or sat down in front of cars,” the report continued. “Mounted policemen tried to control the crowd about 20 minutes into the demonstration. The horses pushed people up King George Street in the direction of Jaffa Road. One policeman used his whip to hit demonstrators who did not get out of his way.”

A demonstration against the Oslo Accords on Jerusalem’s Zion Square, 1994. Credit: Avi Ohayon / GPO

It is striking how, with the substitution of a few names of people and organizations, that same story could have been filed during the last couple of weeks to describe the scene on Jerusalem’s streets during one of the current anti-government protests: “As the police were pushing people up the street, water cannons shot blue-colored water at people congregating…”

ISRAEL IS a nation well acquainted with protests – from the violent demonstration over German reparations in the 1950s, to the Wadi Salib riots in Haifa over the killing of a Moroccan immigrant in 1959, to the Black Panthers in the early 1970s, the reservists protests after the Yom Kippur War, the Peace Now protests in the 1980s, the anti-Disengagement demonstrations in 2005, and the social justice protests in 2011. The list is long, and it is only natural to look for similarities between what is happening on the streets today and what happened in the past.

But this time there is one significant difference: the demonstrations are an amalgam of different causes; there is not just one cause whose banner is being waved.

“The anti-corruption protests started first,” said Chaim Weizmann, a lecturer in government at IDC in Herzliya who has studied Israel’s protest movements, “then the Shulman [small business people] protests, and then the coronavirus brought those protesting the difficult economic situation, who then joined with the social workers.

“Everyone comes for a different reason, but they go to the same place and take part in the same protest. Very few are leaving because they say they can’t identify with one of the messages. What this creates is a general atmosphere of dissatisfaction, of protests, of being anti.”

In the large demonstrations that took place from 1993 to 1995, there were also a number of different causes that mixed together: the Golan Heights (“Ha’am im Hagolan”), the settlements movement, Zo Artzeinu. But they were all from the “same family” – protesting against the diplomatic process being led by Yitzhak Rabin.

That is not the case today. At the demonstrations popping up around the country, one can find “black flag demonstrators,” who have been protesting against Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu for years and believe he must leave office, “anti-occupation” activists, as well as “the Shulmanim,” who have been protesting in various forms since October on behalf of the self-employed. And these groups have now been joined by demonstrators protesting the dire economic straits triggered by corona: restaurateurs, unemployed students, social workers.

Owners of event halls protest outside the Knesset in Jerusalem to call for financial support from government over restrictions on their businesses due to the coronavirus, on July 21, 2020. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

This is creating a general atmosphere of dissatisfaction that should worry Netanyahu, Weizmann said. As long as the protests were dominated only by those who have been calling for his ouster for years, that was one thing, but as other voices are now joining in, it creates a different picture altogether.

That the protests are not showing any sign of disappearing is apparently concerning Netanyahu, the reason he took to Twitter on Saturday night to highlight a Palestinian flag at one of the demonstrations, and saying that the protests were being backed by his arch-nemesis, Ehud Barak, “the partner of convicted pedophile Jeffrey Epstein.”

According to Weizmann, Netanyahu misses the mark when trying to paint the protests as just that of “leftists.” Rather, part of the protests reflects a general lack of confidence in the government’s ability to deal with the corona crisis.

On the one hand, Weizmann said, the anger and frustration on display could convince Netanyahu that this is not the time to go for early elections, even though some argue this is where he is headed. On the other hand, Weizmann also counseled against believing that all those joining the protests and frustrated at the situation would take it out against Netanyahu at the ballot box.

Weizmann recalled the economic protests of 2003 just prior to the Knesset elections that year. Ariel Sharon was the prime minister, and journalist Oshrat Kotler interviewed a single mother in Tel Aviv who said she came out because she did not have food for her child. Kotler, Weizmann said, asked the woman who she would vote for in the upcoming elections, and she replied Ariel Sharon.

When reminded that just a minute before she was bewailing the economic situation and saying she had no money for food, the interviewee replied “Yes, but only Arik knows how to deal with the Arabs.”

“It could be the same thing now,” Weizmann said. “It could be that people are saying it is all correct [the frustration vented at the protests], but the minute they have to cast their ballot, they will say there is nobody else.”

THAT SENTIMENT, at least, is the hope of a group of about a dozen people who gathered Wednesday on Ben-Maimon Street in Jerusalem, just around the corner from the Prime Minister’s Residence, to face off against a group of maybe 75 anti-Netanyahu protesters sitting under makeshift tents on the sidewalk alongside them.

This scene, which repeats itself nightly in Jerusalem, was sandwiched in between a protest of a few thousand people on Tuesday night that will be remembered for a female student of social work who bared her chest while sitting atop the large menorah across from the Knesset, and what was expected to be a large demonstration in the city on Thursday night.

One part of the sidewalk – the much larger stretch – was taken up by the anti-government protesters, sitting on mattresses and plastic chairs, chanting from time to time and – at least part of them – listening to far-left speakers, such as Amiram Goldblum, who declared Israel an “apartheid state” engaging in crimes against humanity.

The signs hanging from metal barricades ranged from “The accused should rise to his feet,” “A detached government” and “Stop the dictatorship plague” to “Where are you, hope?” and “The siege of Balfour.” The much smaller pro-Netanyahu contingent shouted out slogans such as “traitors,” “leftists” and “leftist traitors.”

Each side tried to drown out the other with music blaring through speakers. The anti-Netanyahu protest played the classic Yoram Gaon song “Me’al Pisgat Har Hatzofim,” with its final words, “Jerusalem, Jerusalem, come, Messiah, come.” While the pro-Netanyahu group blasted at full volume an Erez Simon song with a strong Mizrahi beat praising the prime minister. “Bibi, ya habibi, [Bibi my beloved], Bibi ya habibi, Bibi is a great Binyamin. Bibi, ya habibi, Bibi ya habibi, my Bibi is the king of the Right.” One of the anti-Netanyahu protests, swept up in the rhythm of the catchy song, began dancing to it in the street.

Another woman, who would give her name only as Revital, was also swinging to the melody, even as she was holding a sign connecting Epstein and Barak to the funding of the protests seemingly sweeping the country.

Asked if she really believed what was written on her sign, she replied: “Barak said himself that he would pay for people to protest to bring down the government.” She then went on to draw the connection between Barak and “that pedophile Epstein.”

The dueling chants, the extreme slogans shouted from one side to the other, the competing music, the signs full of pathos, the large barrier erected to keep the protesters out of the view of the Prime Minister’s Residence, gave the scene the feel of a tragicomedy.

“I find the whole thing pretty ridiculous,” said Moshe Weinstein, 28, who happened upon the scene after visiting his grandparents who live nearby. He termed the protests “ridiculous” because he said that the demonstrators were deciding on Netanyahu’s guilt or innocence before the court heard the case.

“I defend their right to protest, but not to block roads,” said Weinstein, who emigrated from New York at the age of 12. “There is an educational problem when you have kids who say they have the democratic right to block my road.”

Weinstein drew parallels between the protests taking place here and those taking place all across America. “They are both saying that we need to burn everything down and then start again from the beginning, but that is not how it works.”

Across the street, another longtime immigrant – a man who would identify himself only as Daniel – explained why he had come to the protest, though making it clear he was there on his own and not as part of any organization.

Daniel grew up in Uruguay under a military dictatorship, and immigrated here in 1984. He said that Israelis take their freedoms for granted, and do not realize how quickly those freedoms can all disappear.

“I came to the protest to protect democracy,” he said. “I did not come because of anything to do with grants or money. I’m here because of democracy, not corona. I came from a dictatorship, and know what it’s like not to have the freedom of speech or protest.”

Asked if he genuinely thought that Israel was on the slippery slope toward losing its democracy, he replied: “What, it didn’t happen in Turkey? Turkey was also democratic.”

Soon after he spoke, someone from the pro-Netanyahu group took a megaphone and roared toward the anti-government protesters: “Bibi woke up today in [the Prime Minister’s Residence] on Balfour Street. He woke up yesterday on Balfour Street. And he will wake up there tomorrow. And you, you will continue to sleep on the ground here on your mattresses.”

To which the anti-Bibi crowd chanted “1000, 2000, 4000,” referring to the names of the criminal cases for which Netanyahu is currently on trial, as Israel’s summer of discontent continues to simmer.


The world is in chaos while the Israeli gov’t is dysfunctional

The government is fractured and incapable of making any decisions

By ISI LEIBLER   

Jerusalem Post, JULY 22, 2020 21:42
Defense Minister Benny Gantz talks to Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu as Foreign Minister Gabi Ashkenazi walks by at a cabinet meeting on June 7 (photo credit: MARC ISRAEL SELLEM)

When my last op-ed was published at the end of March, the coronavirus appeared to be under control in Israel and a national unity government was in the process of being formed. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s popularity and approval rating was soaring, and there was a widespread sense of relief that sanity had prevailed and we would have a unity government that would work together, putting the national interest above all else in dealing with the crucial issues facing us.

Alas, as soon as the government was formed, contrary to all expectations, this proved to be an illusion. In fact, unless this government changes dramatically, it may become the worst this country has ever endured.

The government is dysfunctional, fractured and incapable of making any decisions. Indeed, in hindsight, from the outset, with its unprecedented bloated number of ministers, making all decisions subject to the consent of two leaders who have absolute contempt for each other was a recipe for disaster.

Those of us naive enough to believe that the coronavirus pandemic would bring out the best in our leaders have been sadly disappointed. Alternate Prime Minister Benny Gantz and his Blue and White Party have not acted as partners, but as an opposition within the government. They have used their right to veto virtually every decision being pushed by Netanyahu. The result has been that total chaos prevails with no effective government.

This could not have happened at a worse time. When leadership is desperately needed, we have a government of national paralysis, which has totally lost control of the situation.

The coronavirus pandemic has accelerated global divisions and unrest all over the world. The US, whose economy had reached an all-time high, is in total disarray. President Donald Trump’s high ratings have crashed, and the polls suggest presumptive Democratic nominee Joe Biden, who is far from an attractive candidate, could become the next president.

Internally, chaos prevails with mobs taking to the streets, perpetrating violence and looting while progressives, including some mayors, are calling to defund and, in some cases, eliminate the police.

These mobs are mainly led by radicals from the powerful Black Lives Matter movement, whose 2016 platform (since amended) described Israel as an “apartheid state” that is committing “genocide” against the Palestinian people. Many of them seek to undermine the pillars of civilization and engage in the destruction of statues and monuments of historical and religious personalities. Unless these forces are dealt with and law and order are restored, anarchy will prevail.

In this atmosphere, the pre-selections in the Democratic Party all point to a radicalization that, aside from a potential long-term detrimental domestic impact on the economy and society, do not augur well for Israel.

Though also facing the coronavirus and the threat of terrorism, the countries of Europe and the UN, with a few possible exceptions, are still not concentrating on the very real threats from Iran and its proxies, which continue to actively seek the annihilation of Israel.

In this global context, Netanyahu’s commitment to applying sovereignty in parts of Judea and Samaria seems remote as the Americans clearly have their hands full with other issues.

However, more significant is that as a result of his dysfunctional government, Netanyahu’s standing has plummeted.

He generated confidence when addressing the nation so effectively in the first wave of the coronavirus. But the impulsive move to open up the economy too early and now his current inability to execute decisions has resulted in a breakdown of trust and confidence. The government fails to speak with one voice, as every ministry releases contradictory statements with no one focusing on the bigger picture, only their own partisan constituent interests.

The public is confused and has lost confidence, and even members of Netanyahu’s own party are rebelling against him, as reflected by the Knesset Coronavirus Committee overturning government lockdown decisions to curb the pandemic. No longer in control over the decision-making process, Netanyahu is hamstrung by his own government and unable to address the nation freely.

His coalition “partner,” Gantz, does not appear to have any coherent policy other than to oppose Netanyahu’s decisions.

Before the last election, we felt that the political system had reached its lowest level. We were wrong. This “national” government has led to utter disunity.

This is a catastrophic situation for a nation that only a few months ago prided itself as a world leader in dealing effectively with the coronavirus. That position has reversed with Israel now registering among the highest daily infections per capita in the world. All we hear from the various government spokesmen are tentative and conflicting decisions to implement new rules – which are often then reversed. One day, restaurants and beaches are open; the next day, they are closed.

It is unbelievable that I am writing this, but unless this government gets its act together, I would today welcome elections if they were to result in the appointment of a capable leader able to form a disciplined cabinet that would work in unity for the best interest of the nation.

We have among us the best medical professionals in the world.

Public health expert Prof. Gabi Barbash, former Health Ministry director-general, has now been appointed as head of the national campaign to manage the crisis and make the crucial decisions needed. He must be allowed to do so, unimpeded by political motivations or interference.

As for the prime minister, it is sad for me to admit that, despite his outstanding achievements, domestically and internationally, today he is not leading the country effectively. And this is prior to the grueling court cases he is about to face. Unless he can turn the tide rapidly and discipline his partners and achieve a genuine governing arrangement with his coalition, the majority of whom are currently engaging in petty power politics instead of urgently acting to confront the coronavirus, there is no moral justification for this government retaining office.

Israel also needs to have a strong government to handle the possible defeat of Trump and the emergence of a Democratic administration far less supportive to us than its predecessor.

One way or another, we can overcome our challenges on both the international and domestic fronts. But we need a leader supported by a capable and disciplined cabinet. Failure to achieve this will lead to catastrophe.

The writer’s website can be viewed at www.wordfromjerusalem.com. He may be contacted at ileibler@leibler.com

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