Israeli minister of finance and a Likud powerhouse, Yisrael Katz is known neither for his charisma nor clever repartee. But he nailed it last week when he referred to the zigzagging pandemic-related decrees of the government as the era of the “accordion economy.”
What was, until last week, more or less typical Israeli organized chaos morphed into borderline anarchy this week, with Likud bigwigs sniping openly at one another publicly and in Knesset committees. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu used to run a very tight ship, but it seems that the sailors are in desperate need of shore leave and the captain is doing his darnedest to distract them with constant “pop-up” crises; all but the real crisis that he prefers to avoid–the public health and economic meltdown.
As I wrote last week, Israel flipped from being an early global leader in managing the Coronavirus outbreak in a flash. For much of July, the numbers of newly infected individuals hovered between 1,500 and 1,700, leading to a panic in government as to how to manage and contain further spread.
In June, bankruptcies shot up 75 percent over the previous year, and things will only deteriorate in the coming months. Until they settled with the government early on Wednesday, social workers were in the second week of a nation-wide strike, leaving the most helpless and needy without any support. Nurses are only now back at work after striking for several days due to extreme burnout and lack of resources. Physicians and public health policy experts warn that the system is on the verge of a breakdown, and hospitals are treating only COVID-19 patients and the most serious of other illnesses and injuries.
After days of threatening the re-imposition of a nation-wide lockdown, the politicians began to understand that the people have had it. They will not follow crazy orders that change daily, sometimes hourly. The latest is the so-called “compromise” the government announced: Restaurants, beaches, swimming pools, and generally anything fun and leisurely will be closed on weekends. Sunday to Thursday, all is open.
This ridiculous “rule” was announced on Friday morning, giving restaurants–which just reopened fully a month or so ago–no time to react. They had ordered food and supplies for weekend business and arranged with workers to, well, work. Some threw in the garbage tens of thousands of dollars of wasted food and supply purchases and told their staff to stay at home. Others chose to carry on, beginning what will likely turn quickly into a tsunami of civil disobedience across sectors, nationwide. Everyone is incensed by the government’s other-worldly conduct, thinking that businesses open and shut on little gusts of air—like an accordion.
Leading physicians and experts have also been slamming the government, pointing out the obvious: this so-called “strategy”–weekend lockdown–is based on voodoo, not science. Viruses do not take breaks on weekdays. This Coronavirus, we now know, spreads most easily in closed spaces, not outdoors. There are approximately 35 known cases of transmission in gyms of a total of approximately 54,000 overall cases. Pools and beaches are among the safest places to be, as long as everyone enjoying such places refrains from overtly stupid conduct, which applies anywhere.
Quite simply, the government got lucky in the first round of battling COVID by locking up everyone and everything. As one physician said recently, lockdown and quarantine are blunt “medieval” instruments that cannot become a default strategy. Surely, the “Start-Up Nation” can come up with something scientifically sound that accommodates a measure of economic and life activity.
The government’s lack of planning and vision to deal with this crisis is now abundantly clear. The public has no confidence in government, all the more due to the open infighting among top Likud MKs who bicker and snipe about everything. Bibi, meanwhile, throws a distraction flare almost daily and no one is paying any attention. As one astute observer noted on Tuesday: “Gov’t is afraid of the public.”
Israelis understand all too well the need for collective action to promote national security, but they are proving to be far less accepting of the edicts of a ruling coalition with tattered credibility.
As one restaurant owner in the northern city of Nahariya aptly commented recently on television: “They can’t treat us like this. We are not soldiers.”