There is an expression: “The more things change, the more they remain the same.” How true of so many things that were carried over from 2020 to 2021. The readers of this Blog in each nation can verify that little has changed over the past week and a half. Each country deals with its own challenges and some issues spill over and affect other countries as well.
Israel began the new civil year in a lockdown situation, its third, which went into effect on the 27th of December. It was in an alleged response to the number of new infections that steadily climbed to over 8,000 a day, the highest figure in months. The lockdown was supposed to remain in effect for at least two weeks. But, after only a week into it, the government approved an even stricter lockdown that went into effect a few days later, at midnight this past Thursday, the 7th of January. It is expected to cost the economy as much as 4.0 billion shekels ($1.3 billion) a week.
At the beginning of the pandemic, Israel led the world in dealing with it and then eased off, resulting in a second wave and a second lockdown. Schools and certain businesses were allowed to reopen, even as a significant number of Israelis ignored or willfully violated rules and restrictions regarding travel and social distancing. The second wave grew stronger, resulting in a third lockdown and a reinforced third lockdown, which is the situation today. But, Israel has regained the status of world leader, this time in administering the number of vaccinations against Covid-19 per capita.
In a speech this past Thursday, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said that Israel’s agreement with Pfizer, Inc., which supplied the first doses of vaccine, would allow for all Israelis over the age of 16 to be inoculated by the end of March, if not sooner, adding: “As part of the agreement, we agreed that Israel would serve as a model nation, a model for the world in the swift vaccination of an entire country.” Indeed, about 17.5% of Israel’s population of approximately 9 million, including 70% of citizens aged 60 or older, received the first of two shots of the Pfizer vaccine. Arab citizens and others living in East Jerusalem, have been offered the vaccine, but, according to one major news outlet, many refused to take it. The second round of inoculations is said to begin tomorrow, Sunday.
Still, there is a growing concern over the effectiveness of the vaccine, as well as increased opposition from medical experts as to the need for a third national lockdown and a tightened lockdown. There is no doubt that vaccinating the entire population by the end of March would be a feather in the cap for the Prime Minister, particularly as the country will face another national election on the 23rd of March, its fourth in two years.
The whole business of the vaccinations was not dealt with properly. The government didn’t have clear guidelines regarding it. For a long time, the media said that everyone needs two shots, 2-3 weeks apart. Then, when the doses were dwindling, the health officials were considering giving only one injection, instead of two. This sparked immediate opposition from some medical professionals, who claimed that giving a single dose was like giving nothing. Even worse, giving a single dose would be like experimenting on people. The media did a great job in creating a mini-panic and on the whole, the population responded as expected. The shipment from Moderna, which was supposed to supplement the vaccine received from Pfizer, was reported to be late in arriving. But, lo and behold, the first shipment from Maderna (100,000 doses) arrived also on Thursday. There are clear differences between the Pfizer and Maderna vaccines, particularly with regarding to storage. So, again, a lack of clarity. There are also legal objections to the effort to vaccinate the entire country with what has been defined as an experimental drug, untested in the normal course of granting approval for dissemination, making the population “human guinea pigs” (you should excuse the expression)!
In the midst of all of this, Israel is considering issuance of a “green passport” for those who have been vaccinated and recovered. According to a report in The Times of Israel earlier this week: The Health Ministry on Monday unveiled details of its proposed “green passport” for Israelis who have been inoculated against the coronavirus or recovered from COVID-19, which would grant holders of the document access to large gatherings and cultural venues. Those who test negative for the virus could receive a temporary green passport for 72 hours, while a 6-month green passport would be issued to those who were vaccinated, starting a week after receiving the second dose of the vaccine, or who recovered from COVID-19. Its use is intended to encourage vaccination in an effort to achieve “herd immunity”, which requires the vaccination of 70 percent of the population. The Health Ministry is also planning to issue an additional document for those who were vaccinated, which would exempt them from having to be quarantined. Restrictions relating to occupancy and gatherings would continue. Other countries are considering the Israeli proposal and Israel will decide how to proceed after getting feedback from those countries.
Notwithstanding all of Israel’s efforts to deal with the challenge of Covid-19, Itamar Grotto, the deputy director-general of the Health Ministry, said: “We are winning the vaccine race while losing the battle against the mutation.” He was apparently referring to concerns whether the vaccine would be effective against the South African (501.V2) variant of the virus, which is more infectious than the original Covid-19, following at least Israelis who tested positive to it, bringing the total of those who tested positive to the variants to 151.
So, the new civil year is very much a continuation of the year that just passed. The health crisis continues, as does the economic crisis and the seemingly never-ending socio-political crisis. To that is added the developing crisis of lack of rainfall. God grants rain in due season as a blessing for obedience, but withholds it when the nation turns its back on Him. (see Deut. 11:10-11)
This Blog usually deals with events as they relate to Israel, both at home as well as abroad. Sometimes, however, events in other countries have an impact on Israel, for good or for bad. Such is the situation regarding this week’s occurrences in the United States.
The storming of the U.S. Capitol building impacted not only the U.S., but the world as a whole. The bastion of democracy was assaulted. The result was to leave a serious wound on the hide of American society that will take a long time to heal. And, even when it does heal, an ugly scar will remain. I don’t want to get into a political discussion of who was right and who was wrong. When all of the evidence is in, no one will walk away without blame – not rightist, not leftist, not centrist. President-elect, Joe Biden, responded to the situation with clear disgust, saying: “This is not who we are.”
But, what if it really IS who we are? America has been divided for a long time. It is not alone in that regard. Other countries, including Israel, are in the same category. The divisions and specific interest groups, the hatred, discrimination and bigotries that have festered within America’s borders from east to west and from north to south brought it to a boiling point and then exploded. Yet, the U.S. is strong and has the ability to overcome this latest challenge to its socio-political infrastructure.
As in most instances where a nation suffers a setback, local or national, it looks for a scapegoat. For countless generations, that scapegoat has been the Jew. Anti-semitism has increased worldwide over the past decade by leaps and bounds and it found almost unfettered expression in the United States. We should all remember that those who touch the Jew touch the “apple of His eye” (Zechariah 2:8). This should not be misunderstood. God’s singling out the nation of Israel has to do with His honor and glory, as well as His faithfulness, and not because of anything that Israel has done or deserves (Deut. 7:7-8). Still, a promise was made to Abraham, a promise that emanates from the God of creation Himself and one that has been played out time and again during the last 4,000 years: “And I will make you a great nation, and I will bless you, and make your name great; And so you shall be a blessing; And I will bless those who bless you, and the one who curses you I will curse. And in you all the families of the earth will be blessed.” (Gen. 12:2-3) It’s not too late for America to get its act together. It needs to get back to Biblical basics.
Archie Bunker was a fictional character from the popular television sitcom of the 1970s, All in the Family. He was a veteran of WWII, a family man and a blue-collar worker. He was also highly opinionated, to put it mildly, putting down everyone and everything with which he didn’t agree. A poster of him sums up the perspective of his character: “There’s a little me in all o’ youse…”. Maybe that really IS who we are.
Democracy is a relatively fragile thing. It is not etched in stone, but built layer upon layer of struggle, in an effort to form “a perfect union” – a goal envisioned in the Constitution of the United States. Unlike the U.S., the State of Israel is much younger, although as a people we have existed for millenia. Our democratic ideals are also being severely challenged and our legal system is being tested in a way that no one thought would be possible only a few years ago. Could what happened in the U.S. happen here? May it never be! But, we are a divided nation, facing challenges from within as well as from without. We could also reach an internal boiling point.
The U.S. once referred to itself as “one nation under God”. Israel was called to be a nation “under God” in the truest sense, serving under the theocracy of the Almighty. But, despite being warned against it, Israel wanted and was granted a king, so that it could be like the other nations. The result: A kingdom was established. It became a divided kingdom, suffered captivity, was allowed to return to the Land and was punished with a long-term diaspora following unjustified hatred. Only God’s faithfulness restored us to the land and established us as a people. But, we are once again at each other’s throats, with unity being a distant hope.
It is a new civil year. There is much good that can be done and accomplished if we learn how to work together, keeping our eyes on Him Who is invisible. Man will always disappoint, but God never will. He is able to do exceeding abundantly beyond anything we can ask or think. He can restore, heal and unify a divided nation.
Do not trust in princes, in mortal man, in whom there is no salvation. His spirit departs, he returns to the earth; on that very day his plans perish.Blessed is he whose help is the God of Jacob, whose hope is in the Lord his God. (Psalm 146:3-5).
Bless, be blessed and be a blessing.
Have a great week.