Despite Centralization and Disorder, Israel Can Mark a Victory Over the Coronavirus

What’s ours is ours, as people have been saying lately. This week Israel was entitled to mark a victory – however temporary and partial – over the coronavirus. With the number of people who were confirmed to be infected this week numbering only a few dozen a day, the coronavirus wards in hospitals shutting down and even the hesitant reopening of the education system, there is cause for a certain satisfaction. The reports from Western Europe and the United States are incalculably grimmer, and the comparison with them prompted the New York Times to hail Israel’s policy of “aggressive response” to the virus.

– Annexation isn’t the end of the world. Listen to Gideon Levy

For Israel and Palestine, annexation isn’t the end of the world. Listen to Gideon Levy

There are also countries whose situation is far better than ours. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is not “uniquely deserving,” as his lawyers incredibly told the High Court of Justice this week. It’s doubtful whether Netanyahu really saved the lives of thousands of Israelis, as a Likud communique claimed. But the policy of lockdown and social distancing, which was introduced in Israel at the recommendation of the health authorities, helped reduce the number of the sick and dead claimed by the epidemic very much.

The control group is already large enough. Countries that took similar measures – and, like Israel, did so at a sufficiently early stage – are succeeding in restraining the incidence of infection. The United States and Britain, which were late in doing so, are still burning. (The Swedish case is exceptional, and the final conclusions there have yet to be drawn.)

In the meantime, countries such as Russia, Turkey and Brazil, which initially presented a false picture that the virus would not affect them, are now beginning to pay the full price. Israel enjoys another salient advantage. Its relatively young population reduces the proportion of citizens who are acutely vulnerable to the coronavirus. A similar phenomenon is discernible in the neighboring Arab states, where the average age of the population is even lower. From the moment that Israel’s elderly population confined themselves to their homes, at the government’s behest, the danger of rampant mortality decreased – a danger that from the outset was lower than in Italy or Spain.

Partitions have been set up at the Western Wall to enable socially distanced prayers, May 6, 2020Ohad Zwigenberg

Netanyahu came to the crisis with long years of experience, a broad understanding of processes and good instincts. Equally, he was served by a basic pessimism and slight hypochondria, both of which entered into his decision making. At an early stage in the crisis he informed the officials involved that he preferred over-deployment, despite the large budgetary outlays this entails, over under-deployment. Shaul Amsterdamski, from the Kan public broadcaster, this week reported an unbelievable saga of the continued purchase of ventilating machines. The cumulative numbers, costing hundreds of millions of shekels, are already more than what Israel needs, but the procurement continues unabated.

The leader is the sum total of his fears and considerations. A true coronavirus miracle befell Netanyahu, and with perfect timing for him. The virus’ arrival in Israel helped him dismantle Kahol Lavan, coopting half of its MKs to the government under terms of near surrender, and at the same time to defer the start of his trial by two months at least. His nightly press conferences with the director general of the Health Ministry, Moshe Bar Siman Tov, left the country’s citizens anxious and obedient. Under the auspices of the epidemic, the prime minister continued his systematic undercutting of democratic values amid relatively limited civil opposition.