Israel’s Coronavirus Exit Strategy Chaos Exposes All of the Government’s Ills

All over the world Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s devotees marvel over how Israel is dealing with the coronavirus crisis. But the low death rate from COVID-19 here says nothing about the total anarchy over an exit strategy. This reached new heights last week in connection to the start of the reopening of the education system.

After many twists and turns, the picture became clearer Saturday evening. Schools will reopen for grades one to three and the last two years of high school – but not kindergartens, as had been planned. Haredi students, but only grades seven to 11, will return to school.

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But the decision, it turns out, is just a recommendation. In some cities, classes will resume Sunday. Others, including Tel Aviv and Be’er Sheva, said they needed more time to prepare and will open the relevant schools later this week.

As throughout the crisis, the government has to make decisions under conditions of great uncertainty. Research from various countries, and a specific study by the Gertner Institute for Health Policy and Epidemiology Research of children in the largely ultra-Orthodox city of Bnei Brak, failed to clearly answer fundamental questions: To what extent are children at risk of infection? (It is known that children can be infected, albeit less than adults, but the rate is still not known.) To what extent can children, especially those without typical symptoms of COVID-19, infect adults?

At the same time, the coronavirus exposes all the major ills of the Israeli government – belated and improvised planning, preparations and decision-making alongside surrendering to pressure groups. The latter led to the decision Friday, proposed by Interior Minister and Shas Chairman Arye Dery, to reopen higher grades, but not the lowest ones, in Haredi schools.

The disagreement reflects a deep conflict between the health and education ministries. A National Security Council report said the former failed to give the latter clear directives the Education Ministry needed to prepare for the resumption of studies.

To complement this sorry picture, on Thursday’s broadcast of Channel 13’s investigative TV show “Hamakor,” Haim Rivlin followed Prof. Zeev Rotstein, CEO of Hadassah Medical Center. Rotstein runs the two Jerusalem hospitals under the organization like a private fiefdom that ignores the Health Ministry. In letting the reporter record conversations Rotstein held with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, Health Ministry officials and the head of a department in the Mossad – presumably without their knowledge, in most cases – gave viewers a rare peek behind the curtain of the unified front presented at media briefings. It was depressing: power struggles, knives drawn, mutual recriminations, confusion and no small amount of panic.