Netanyahu’s Fear of a Diplomatic Spat With Trump Amid the Coronavirus Crisis Risked Israeli Lives

Health Ministry figures indicating that hundreds of coronavirus carriers arrived in Israel from the United States between mid-February and mid-April – constituting some 40 percent of the Israelis with the virus who are known to have been infected abroad – point up the scope of the errors made by the Israeli government in dealing with the pandemic at two particularly critical junctures.

– Haredi leaders learn harsh corona lesson as Israel sends in the troops

Haredi leaders learn harsh corona lesson as Israel sends in the troopsHaaretz

The first was the delay in announcing mandatory isolation for all passengers returning from the United States. The second was the overall failure in handling Israelis returning from abroad, especially from the United States, after mandatory isolation was expanded to include arrivals from all destinations.

According to the data, over the course of approximately a month, 573 confirmed coronavirus carriers arrived in Israel from the United States, compared to 610 from all of Europe. Of the latter, 150 were from France, 110 from Britain and 70 from Spain.

The danger should have been possible to predict at the beginning of the crisis, and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu was well aware of it, but more concerned about a different threat, one named Donald Trump. Early in March several participants in the AIPAC convention in Washington tested positive for the virus, and the convention was attended by hundreds of Israelis who were about to return to Israel without mandatory isolation. (U.S. Ambassador to Israel David Friedman had planned to join them but postponed his return.)

However, Netanyahu feared that the U.S. president would take the imposition of restrictions on incoming U.S. flights as an insult. After all, at the time Trump still opposed taking drastic measures against the coronavirus, and Netanyahu feared he would be angry if Israel took a different approach.

And so, after self-isolation became mandatory for arrivals from many European countries, for several days Netanyahu and Health Minister Yaakov Litzman held off on expanding the requirement to include the United States. In a bid to solve the diplomatic problem, the Health Ministry proposed ordering isolation only for passengers returning from high-risk states, such as California, New York and Washington. But the government kept dragging its feet.

Eventually, in the wake of a conversation between Netanyahu and U.S. Vice President Mike Pence, it was decided that Israel would make isolation mandatory for all passengers returning from abroad, in order not to stigmatize the United States as a virus hot spot, heaven forbid. At the time, at least 447 people in the United States had tested positive for the coronavirus, and it was clear that this was a fraction of the actual number of Americans infected, due to the severe undertesting in the country.