Israelis have a few built-in advantages when it comes to coping with the kind of traumas precipitated by the coronavirus crisis. Unlike other Western nations, most Israelis have personally experienced collective existential angst in their lifetimes – in the wars of 1948, 1967, 1973 and, to a certain degree, during the second intifada.
Less than 30 years ago, in the 1991 Gulf War, Israelis spent 42 days in a lockdown not unlike the current coronavirus curfews. Then, however, they also had to deal with the whole meshugas of a 60-second rush to sealed rooms, putting on gas masks and praying that the incoming missiles would carry conventional warheads rather than the apocalyptic chemical and biological agents that their leaders told them were on the way.
Israelis may have developed a reputation for unruliness, but most still serve in the army and are conditioned to follow orders in times of emergency. Perhaps it’s no coincidence that the two demographic segments in which the coronavirus is spreading at an especially alarming rate, the ultra-Orthodox and the Israeli Arabs, are also exempt from army service. For most of them, government directives are, at best, unfriendly advice.
– Bibi’s impossible victory and Israel’s corona blind spots
Haaretz Weekly Ep. 72
Finally, though far from exhaustively, Israel is a family-oriented society. When told to stay home, most Israelis have a specific address to go to along with diligent and demanding wives, husbands, mothers, fathers, sisters and brothers who demand they abide by the rules. The police have already reported an uptick in domestic violence and divorce lawyers are preparing to make a mint once the coronavirus crisis is over.
But the biggest edge Israelis have over all other nations is that the scourge of the coronavirus gripping the globe just happened to collide with the plague of political paralysis that has gripped Israel for over a year, especially since the March 2 election. The ensuing superstorm devastated the political landscape, demolished structures, swept away alliances, redrew boundaries and, not least, brought Israel to the edge of a constitutional abyss from which, by the way, it has yet to retreat.
And whatever its demerits – and they are innumerable – the titanic struggle for Israel’s very soul has provided a dramatic and welcome distraction from the pestilence that is terrorizing the rest of the world. Written, directed and produced mostly by Benjamin Netanyahu, the political melodrama is riveting many Israelis; it makes “House of Cards” look like “Mr. Rogers’ Neighborhood.”