If a Second Coronavirus Wave Hits, Tests Will Be the Least of Israel’s Problems

On the coronavirus front, Israeli society, like the prime minister, moved at lightning speed from panic to complacency. In his public appearances in March and April, Netanyahu broadcast a message of looming disaster. This served him in two ways: Half of Kahol Lavan galloped into the government, and his corruption trial was delayed by two months.

At the same time, the gravitas that he projected helped persuade Israelis to obey the government’s guidelines. In recent weeks, the prime minister has only rarely referred to the pandemic, and even then he has shown only limited interest.

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Below him, extreme dissonance mars the messages the state is sending the people. For one thing, local authorities are fining owners of small businesses, whose livelihoods were put on hold for more than two months, for every minor infraction. And we keep getting new bits of information on the rich and powerful receiving exemptions from all the restrictions that irk us ordinary folks.

At Passover, it was the president and prime minister who indulged in exemptions; this week a top billionaire was allowed to skirt a two-week quarantine so he could fly in from Cyprus straight to a celebrity bash in Tel Aviv.

An indirect connection exists between the double standard that the coronavirus episode is revealing at the top and Netanyahu’s calls to jail journalists while fighting vigorously for his right to remain prime minister during his trial. The message to the people, in the best Third World tradition, is strikingly clear: There’s one law for me and a different one for you.