The Militarization of the Coronavirus Crisis, as Seen on Israeli TV

If a stranger were to land in Israel these days and be exposed to the government reports, the headlines and the discussions on the social media, they would be convinced that we are in the midst of an all-out war against hostile armies.

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

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

In the eyes of Israeli authorities and the general Israeli public, the coronavirus pandemic is a security issue: The Shin Bet security service was recruited to operate electronic surveillance devices to track patients and their relatives, the Mossad was sent to bring medical equipment, the National Security Council has set up a war room, the Israel Defense Forces Home Front is publicizing recommendations for proper parenting, and above all of them sits Defense Minister Naftali Bennett, who is trying to wrest control of the crisis from the Health Ministry.

The media for the most part has also incorporated the militarization of the situation. The headlines scream about “the war” or “the battle” against the pandemic, the pundits talk about “the civilian sacrifice” and the “victims of the pandemic,” and the correspondents report on the “mobilization” of the public in order to maintain “national morale.”

The price of the government policy and the media mobilization is paid first of all by anyone who is outside the national and security consensus, with its private lingo and accompanying privileges – but not only by them. This is also paving the way for belligerent discussions on social media, with the singling out of those who “are not helping to carry the stretcher” (army jargon for sharing the burden) in the battle against the coronavirus.

Israeli soldier bringing food aid to families in need Bnei Brak under coronavirus lockdown, April 7, 2020.Meged Gozani

As in war, in this crisis too, most of the media outlets are operating as a kind of national public relations division. They are so busy with “mobilizing” to wage “the battle” that they are missing out on their most important and significant role in every democracy: Identifying failures and erroneous decisions, preventing exploitation of the crisis to overstep authority, and protecting the weak and those who lack rights.

A quick glance at the spokespersons and experts who comment on the situation every evening on the news programs illustrates the civil damage caused by this security-oriented approach. If during wartime we find former generals and military commentators there, this time it’s health experts and former hospital directors – almost all of them Jewish men from the heart of the Israeli establishment.

The crisis has caused a regression in the small progress we have seen in recent years in the variety of speakers on the screen. The news corporations have relapsed to their old ways, and rarely bring women, Arabs, and representatives of other minority groups onscreen. When hospitals and research departments are full of outstanding Arab professionals, both men and women, there is no reason why this is not reflected on our home screens as well.