It’s hard to believe. With all that has been going on here … and there, these pages remained silent. Sometimes, we just need to take a break from the pressures of the tyranny of the urgent. The pandemic came, gave the appearance that it was leaving and then changed its mind and is now flexing its muscles again. The economic crisis that appeared to get a measure of encouragement, but was floundering at best, is again threatening to cause severe financial hardship to multitudes here. The plan of annexation that was supposed to go into effect at the beginning of July has been delayed and there is no determinative date for its implication. Anti-semitism has found new avenues of expression. Dissatisfaction with politicians, demonstrators and even riots and the diminution of respect for governmental authority and decisions have all continued during the past two months. And, for the most part, they have only gotten worse.
During this time, the media hasn’t learned the lesson that those behind the headlines who condemn government, politics and “the left” or “the right”, “the liberals” or “the conservatives” are, for the most part, affected by the consequences of the same venomous rhetoric that they spew forth in both the public media and social media in an attempt to convince the mass multitudes that their ideology is the correct one. We’ve been inundated with reports of demonstrations against police brutality in various countries and have seen the consequences of some the riots that have broken out as a result – a phenomenon that expanded nationally and internationally. And, with all that has been said and done, more has been said than has been done and very little forward progress has been made.
It’s been four months since the coronavirus became a serious issue in Israel and was quickly categorized as a pandemic. The economic consequences that followed of dealing with the pandemic quickly became a financial crisis. During this time, there was no shortage of doomsday prognosticators who voiced their opinions, both in Israel and abroad, that were, and still are, designed to sway the multitudes to accepting that authority needs to be challenged and governments need to be toppled and replaced by those whose worldview is more in tune with the movers and the shakers. It’s easy to criticize and condemn, particularly when no viable alternative is offered with a plan to “make right the things that are wrong”. So, we are often left with accusations against local, regional and national leaders made with a desire to replace them with so-and-so. But, there are no guarantees. Political promises made before elections are intended to garner votes at election time. They are not unconditional commitments to carry out a particular plan for the good of society as a whole. They are more like expressions “I would hope to be able to do this that and the other” when you, the voter, elect me to office because you want to believe that I might actually be able to do what I am telling you I would like to do.” Countries that consider themselves to be democracies tend to have balance-of-power systems that help to prevent them from becoming autocratic and dictatorial. As a result, political opposition often prevents the fulfilment of campaign promises.
So, in the midst of a multitude of crises, great and small, it is actually refreshing that a national leader publicly acknowledges that he accepts responsibility for mistakes that were made, as well as the responsibility to remedy them.
Case in point: When the coronavirus pandemic hit, Israel faced it head-on and went to war against it. It took major steps to deal with a serious problem and we saw the flattening of the curve. Severe health restrictions and limitations on social gathering went into effect. Lockdown was widespread. The distance that one could walk from home was limited to 100 meters. The country was divided between following the government’s guidelines and wanting to resist them.
After two and a half months, officialdom believed that the virus packed its bags and was ready to leave. But, because of travel restrictions, the virus couldn’t find a flight out, so it decided to stay as an unwelcomed guest.
And now, we are facing round two, which has begun with a vengeance.
Towards the end of May, beginning of June, the numbers who were testing positive were decreasing and the restrictions on gatherings imposed on the population began to be lifted. Large segments of the population disregarded almost all of the instructions of the Ministry of Health, thinking that the worst in behind us, the summer arrived, the sun is shining, time to return to the old normal and move on. During the past week, Israel saw a steady increase in those who tested positive to alarming numbers.
Only two days ago, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, in a televised, press conference, publicly admitted that the government re-opened parts of the economy too quickly. He took responsibility for the decision to ease the severe restrictions that were imposed early to halt the spread of Covid-19.
“Looking back, as part of the trial and error, we can say that the last step was too early… We are in the midst of a global storm, which is growing… The second virus wave won’t skip almost any country… It requires fateful decisions every day, balancing between trial and error. You try, err and fix. That’s how all leaders are operating… In the first wave we had amazing success. The death toll was and remains very low. But the lockdown exacted a heavy toll on the economy.”
Netanyahu took responsibility for the decision to reopen the country a month ago after severe, early restrictions were put in place to halt its spread. “I take responsibility for this step, and I take responsibility for fixing it“. As of 1:00 p.m. yesterday (Friday), parts of 5 communities, including Jerusalem and Beit Shemesh, became “restricted zones” for a week
We may not have the same numbers as other countries, but for a country with a relatively small population, having 5,000 people who tested positive during the past week is significant and the complications resulting from those who caught the virus are serious. Everyone who came in contact with someone who tested positive had to self-quarantine for a full two weeks. After being in extended lockdown (including Passover, Feast of Weeks [Pentecost] and Independence Day) for the better part of two months, an additional period of quarantine was almost too much to bear. The major concern, of course, was and continues to be the health crisis. But, the economic crisis that followed in its wake is still ongoing, with almost no end in sight. Travel and tourism have taken the biggest hit, but unemployment went from around 4% to over 25% and is now still around 21% of the work force. Multitudes were laid off on forced vacations without pay and needed to apply for unemployment benefits. Many may not be able to return to theirs former jobs. Businesses of all kinds have been affected and many have closed their doors, with no intention, or ability, to reopen. The coronavirus health crisis generated a coronavirus economic crisis. So, in the same “I take responsibility” speech, P.M. Netanyahu and Finance Minister Israel Katz revealed an economic aid program that is to go into effect immediately this coming week. Parts of the plan will remain in effect for a year – a move that reflects a reality that the economic crisis could continue to last that long.
Prime Minister Netanyahu has become the bulls-eye on the target of condemnation. In a short period of time, he went from hero to zero, as he failed to undergird the successes that were achieved during the first wave of the coronavirus. The public did its part in failing to adhere to health department regulations, thinking that because the numbers were down, the danger of becoming infected was no longer a matter of concern. When push came to shove, the public looked to blame someone – other than itself, of course, for the re-emergence of the pandemic, this time even more forcefully that during the months of March through May. The finger pointing was directed at Netanyahu and the cabinet ministers dealing with the coronavirus crisis. Justifiable? Yes and no.
During the first wave, Netanyahu and his cabinet fought against the virus as though fighting a war – a health war, and it achieved a significant and commendable degree of success. A war should be fought to defeat the enemy, not to wound it and give it time to regroup and become another health or security risk. In this regard, Israel claimed premature victory, only to find itself in the midst of a second wave of fighting against a microbe that is disabling and, in some situations, crippling parts of our socio-economic infrastructure. Now, it is faced with the formidable task of increasing its efforts to combat – and this time, defeat – the health crisis, while insuring that the economic crisis does not become worse.
We live in an age when the usual response to being accused of failure or wrongdoing is to try to pass the buck and accuse someone else. This type of response finds its origin in antiquity, back in the Garden of Eden (Genesis 3:12-13). Thus, it is commendable that the Prime Minister of Israel acknowledges that the ultimate responsibility lies with him. It is regrettable, however, that such an acknowledgment followed the decrease in the public trust of the government’s handling of the health and economic crises. Such an admission is not without its consequences and the public can express its approval or dissatisfaction at the polls at the next election, whenever it takes place, soon or not so soon. It also places the consequences of failure to combat the health and economic crises squarely on Netanyahu’s shoulders.
Victory in war requires a combined effort of government and population. Both need to fulfil their respective obligations. May God hear our prayer and grant that we will press on to victory and that, in the process, a spirit of unity would control our actions and our behavior.
And He said, “If you will give earnest heed to the voice of the LORD your God, and do what is right in His sight, and give ear to His commandments, and keep all His statutes, I will put none of the diseases on you which I have put on the Egyptians; for I, the LORD , am your healer.” (Exodus 15:26)
So the LORD heard Hezekiah and healed the people. (2 Chronicles 30:20)
Heal me, O LORD , and I will be healed; Save me and I will be saved, For You are my praise. (Jeremiah 17:14)
Bless, be blessed and be a blessing.
With prayers for your good health and for a great week,